ISLAMABAD, 11 July (IRIN) - At least 17 people have been killed and an estimated 400,000 affected following a week of flooding along the Indus and Chenab rivers in Punjab, Pakistan's largest province, according to the provincial relief department.
"Since 1992, there has not been much water in the river Indus, so people started cultivating land inside the riverbed and gradually settled there," said district officer coordinating relief activities, Zaffar Abbas Lali, speaking from Layyah, some 450 km south of the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.
"However, following the prior notices, the population themselves managed to escape flooding but their crops of sugarcane, cotton and in some areas orchards have been damaged extensively," he added.
At least 14 local residents, including four children and six women were killed on Monday, while another 20 were injured in the Rajanpur district, when a private boat working to evacuate people struck electricity pylon and capsized.
According to officials at the national meteorological office, unusual weather conditions including heavy snowfall across the northern hills earlier this year combining with above normal summer temperatures in June, led to a massive snowmelt. This caused heavy flooding of rivers across the country, particularly the Indus.
The situation was made worse by a heavy and widespread monsoon across the country which coincided with the already high water levels to create an emergency situation in parts of Pakistan's North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Punjab.
According to sources in Pakistan, the release of about 300,000 cu metres of water per second by India on Thursday into the Chenab river in the eastern Punjab, badly affected the cultivated land in Punjab's eastern and central areas. The districts affected included Sialkot, Gujrat, Mandi Baha-ud-Din, Gujranwala, Hafizabad, Sargodha and Jhang.
According to the Punjab relief department, the flooding caused extensive damage to crop fields of covering over 200,000 acres, with another over 400,000 acres of land affected by huge water inflows.
A total of nearly 800 Punjabi villages and small settlements have been affected and more than 19,000 houses have been damaged. According to Punjab relief authorities, over 190 relief centres have been set up in eleven affected districts where people are being provided with cooked and dry ration and also animal fodder.
Those most-affected included five districts of Bhakkar, Layyah, Dera Ghazi Khan, Muzzaffargarh and Rajanpur from southern cotton belt of Punjab province, while one is that of eastern district of Sialkot bordering Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir.
Meanwhile, the Layyah district authorities have also started vaccinating cattle in the area to avoid any disease outbreak caused by stagnant floodwater. In some areas, cases of malaria and diarrhoea have already been reported, the district authorities added.
Farming communities of the southern riverside cotton belt, mostly with small patches of land and a few herds of cattle have been hit worst.
"The floodwater has extensively damaged the cotton crop across the area, which is the backbone of this region's economy," noted Rai Mansab Ali Khan, speaking from Muzzaffargarh, neighbouring district of Layyah. According to a statement issued by the provincial relief cell of Punjab, sufficient funds have been provided to the district officers involved for relief operations to provide food and services at the camps established to assist the homeless.
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