Aid workers have called for urgent donations to combat the “absolutely devastating” impact of the floods in Pakistan, as new satellite images appeared to confirm that a third of the country is now under water.
When Britain’s Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) called out to raise money for the 33 million people affected, the European Space Agency released grim images based on data captured by its Copernicus satellite.
Those photos appear to confirm the Pakistani government’s estimate that more than a third of the country – an area roughly the size of the UK – has been flooded by monsoon rains estimated to have been ten times heavier than normal.
“The Indus River has flooded, creating a long lake, tens of kilometers wide,” Esa said in a statement.
The floods have claimed more than 1,100 lives, including 399 children, destroyed more than a million homes and wiped out crops, livestock and important infrastructure such as roads and bridges.
On Thursday, Saleh Saeed, chief executive of the DEC, the umbrella organization of 15 leading UK charities, pleaded with the British public to help. “Time is of the essence as conditions are expected to get worse as the rains continue,” he said. “We urge everyone to please give what you can.”
Maryam Imtiaz of Care Pakistan said it was clear the emergency was “out of control”. “The situation on the ground is absolutely devastating… We need as much help as possible,” she added.
Aid workers are grappling with huge logistical challenges to reach millions of people in need, especially in southeastern Sindh province, where water levels remain high. Even in areas where water has receded somewhat, aid distribution is hampered by damaged roads, cut power lines and blocked railways.
“[It] means aid organizations are struggling – getting aid from A to B is a challenge,” said Waseem Ahmad, CEO of Islamic Relief Worldwide. “And the goods available to aid organizations and people are also going down.” [in quantity].”
From the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Ahmad said he had been in the country before the 2010 floods, which killed nearly 2,000 people, but this was worse.
“The situation… is absolute chaos everywhere. People are lining the road, waiting for humanitarian aid such as water, food, shelter, and this is unprecedented in Pakistan’s history. In 22 years of my experience as [a] humanitarian aid worker, I have never seen such devastation from flooding.”
He had met a woman whose house and livestock had been washed away, he said. “She Pointed to a Place” [that] used to be her home. I could only see water there. And that is the extent of the destruction happening in Pakistan.”
Another humanitarian aid worker, Ajeeba Aslam of HelpAge International, said 2.3 million of the 33 million people affected are elderly, and are considered particularly vulnerable because they are often unable to reach makeshift camps for the displaced.
A colleague in Sindh province had told her about an old man he had met “on a railroad track who looked very desperate”. “He had really helped his son and grandchildren to evacuate and now he had lost them. He didn’t know where they are. And he really had trouble walking, so he had no shelter, no food, no water, nothing,” she said.
In a country already suffering from high levels of poverty and malnutrition, the massive destruction of crops and livestock is of particular concern, and it is feared that it will mean “a very harsh winter” for millions.
Jennifer Ankrom-Khan, country director of Action Against Hunger, said the flood damage came on top of the economic impact of the Covid pandemic and the spike in food prices caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“We’ve already seen massive inflation in food prices, and now we have these floods that have affected all crops grown during the season, all food stores maintained by different communities, by the government.”
She added: “So this will have an impact not just now, but in the longer term.”
The Pakistani government has said damage from the floods could total around $10 billion (£8.6 billion), and has begged the world to help as it struggles to cope with the effects of a climate crisis she has caused but little.
On Thursday, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the UK “[stood] with Pakistan” and gave £15 million to help with the relief effort.
A third of that would come from a pledge to match the first £5m raised through the appeal from the DEC, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) said.
The DEC said it was “incredibly grateful” to the UK government for the pledge, but added it “hopefully looks forward to [to] the British government will increase that pot if possible”. The match funding ceiling is significantly lower than in recent calls for Ukraine and Afghanistan.
Appeal will be broadcast on the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Sky on Thursdays after their evening news bulletins.