Urgent call for help launched as satellite images show third of Pakistan underwater | Humanitarian response

Aid workers have appealed for urgent donations to tackle the “absolutely devastating” impact of flooding in Pakistan, as new satellite images appear to confirm that a third of the country is now under water.

As the UK’s Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) appealed to raise funds for the 33 million people affected, the European Space Agency released striking images based on data captured by its Copernicus satellite.

These images appear to confirm the Pakistani government’s assessment that more than a third of the country – an area roughly the size of the UK – has been submerged by monsoon rains, estimated to have been 10 times heavier than usually.

“The Indus River overflowed, creating a long lake tens of kilometers wide,” Esa said in a statement.

The floods claimed more than 1,100 lives, including 399 children, destroyed more than a million homes, and washed away crops, livestock, and key infrastructure such as roads and bridges.

Data captured by the European Space Agency’s Copernicus satellite on August 30 has been used to map the extent of the floods currently devastating Pakistan. Photography: ESA

On Thursday, Saleh Saeed, chief executive of DEC, the umbrella organization for Britain’s 15 major charities, implored the British public to help him. “The weather is critical, conditions are expected to worsen as the rains continue,” he said. “We urge everyone: please give your all.”

Care Pakistan’s Maryam Imtiaz said it was clear the emergency was “not under control”. “The situation on the ground is absolutely devastating… We need all the help we can get,” she added.

Aid workers face immense logistical challenges in reaching millions of people in need, especially in the southeastern province of Sindh where water levels remain high. Even in areas where the water has receded slightly, aid distribution is complicated by damaged roads, downed power lines and blocked railroads.

“[It] means aid agencies are in trouble – it’s a challenge to get aid from A to B,” said Waseem Ahmad, CEO of Islamic Relief Worldwide. “And also the products that are available to relief agencies and people are dwindling [in quantity].”

Speaking from the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Ahmad said he visited the country during the 2010 floods, which killed nearly 2,000 people, but it was worse.

“The situation… is absolutely chaotic everywhere. People are on the side of the road waiting for humanitarian aid, such as water, food, shelter, and this is unprecedented in the history of Pakistan. In 22 years of experience as [a] aid worker, I have never seen such destruction caused by floods.

He had met a woman whose house and livestock had been swept away, he said. “She indicated a place [that] was his home. I only saw water there. And that is the magnitude of the destruction taking place in Pakistan.

Another aid worker on the ground, Ajeeba Aslam, from HelpAge International, said 2.3 million of the 33 million people affected are believed to be elderly and considered particularly vulnerable as they are often unable to reach makeshift camps for the displaced.

A colleague from Sindh province had told him of an old man he had met “on a railway line, looking very desperate”. “He had actually helped his son and grandchildren to evacuate and now he had lost them. He didn’t know where they were. And he was really struggling to walk, so he had no shelter, no food, no water, nothing,” she said.

In a country that already suffers from high levels of poverty and malnutrition, the massive destruction of crops and livestock is a particular concern, and it is feared that it could mean “a very harsh winter” for millions of people.

A family rests after recovering belongings from their flood-hit home in Charsadda, Pakistan.
A family rests after recovering belongings from their flood-hit home in Charsadda, Pakistan. Photograph: Muhammad Sajjad/AP

Jennifer Ankrom-Khan, national director of Action Against Hunger, said the damage from the floods had added to the economic impact of the Covid pandemic and the spike in food prices caused by the invasion of Ukraine by Russia.

“We were already seeing a huge inflation in food prices, and now we have these floods that affected all the crops that were grown during the season, all the food stores that were maintained by different communities, by the government .”

She added: “So it will not just have an impact right now, but in the longer term.”

Pakistan’s government has said damage from the floods could total around $10billion (£8.6billion) and implored the world to help it as it struggles to cope with the impact of a climate crisis that he did little to create.

On Thursday, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the UK “[stood] with Pakistan” and donated £15 million to help with relief efforts.

A third of that would come from a pledge to match the first £5 million raised by the DEC appeal, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) said.

The DEC said it was ‘incredibly grateful’ to the UK government for its pledge, but added it would ‘wait with some hope [to] the British government increases this pot if possible”. The co-financing ceiling is significantly lower than in recent appeals for Ukraine and Afghanistan.

The calls will air on the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Sky on Thursday after their evening newscasts.

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