Floods Head For The Sea Over Pakistan Farmlands

Pakistan's epic floods, which began in the northern mountains, have moved down nearly the full length of the country and spread wide over vast tracks of farmland. The flood waters have reached Hyderabad, not far from where the Indus enters the Arabian Sea.

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The roaring Indus River runs the length of Pakistan, beginning in the Tibetan plateau and dumping out into the Arabian Sea. Pakistan's ruinous floods have reached the nearby city of Hyderabad, and the delta city of Thatta has been emptied of its 150,000 inhabitants by orders of the government. The U.N. says since Wednesday another one million people have been displaced in the southern province of Sindh.

NPR's Julie McCarthy is there and has this report.

(Soundbite of rushing water)

JULIE MCCARTHY: We're looking at the Kotri Barrage, a water barrier that diverts part of the Indus River. And as this River has traveled the length of the country it has created floods, its embankments have busted, it has destroyed millions of acres of crops, and inundated villages that never saw the Indus River before. Yet, all those miles and all that water diverted, the river here at Kotri, in the southern part of Sindh, is running at what authorities call exceptionally high flood waters.

You can hear the roar of the water as it passes through this barrage.

(Soundbite of rushing water)

MCCARTHY: The U.N. says that emergency shelters are helping only four percent of the displaced population in Sindh. Dazed and drawn people inhabit roadsides and stampede relief trucks.

Writer Mohammed Hanif is author of the bestseller "A Case of Exploding Mangoes," about the mysterious death of Pakistani dictator General Zia al-Haq.

Witnessing the disaster, Hanif says its as if scenes are being re-enacted from Partition, the tumultuous division of the subcontinent into Pakistan and India that displaced millions a half a century ago.

Mr. MOHAMMED HANIF (Author, "A Case of Exploding Mangoes"): And what you see in those images is this mass of humanity on their donkey carts; old men kind of carrying all their household stuff, old women whove been separated from their families; you see lots and lots of children loaded up on carts. But its quite obvious from those images that they dont really know where theyre going.

(Soundbite of people shouting)

MCCARTHY: With people lost and desperate, theres rancor in the air. A man flanked by his clan argues with a woman from a local aid group. He says his people are being warehoused with no proper food or medicine. A blistered baby, burned after plunging into a vat of oil in search of food, is presented as Exhibit A of how little the government has done to provide the basics.

Writer Mohammed Hanif says ignorance about the victims - some of the poorest rural people in Pakistan - compounds the cruelty.

Mr. HANIF: These people kind of live lives which are almost invisible to us. So there's a certain mindset which thinks that these people have just moved to the cities and they have suddenly become greedy - they want food, they want medicine, they want shelter, they want toilets, they want washrooms for their women. And its horrible to say, but there are people who say: But did they have all of this before? Well, the truth is that they did.

MCCARTHY: Near the raging river last night, a small group of Hindus converged.

(Soundbite of horn)

MCCARTHY: Conch shells blaring, they came to pray for deliverance. The River is sacred and we seek its blessing, they said.

But for now, the River Indus is deadly and outrunning any efforts to tame it. Thousands of survivors near the inundated town of Thatta are huddled around the mausoleums in the graveyard of Necropolis, a World Heritage Site where they sought higher ground.

Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Hyderabad, Pakistan.

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