- Associated Press - Monday, August 2, 2010

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistan dispatched medical teams Monday to the deluged northwest amid fears that cholera could spread after the worst floods in the country’s history that already have killed up to 1,200 people, an official said.

The disaster has forced 2 million to flee their homes. Residents have railed against the government for failing to provide enough emergency assistance nearly a week after extremely heavy monsoon rains triggered raging floodwaters in Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa province.

The government said it has deployed thousands of rescue workers who so far have saved an estimated 28,000 people and distributed basic food items. The army also has sent some 30,000 troops and dozens of helicopters, but the scale of the disaster is so vast that many residents said it seems as if officials are doing nothing. Thousands more people in the province remain trapped by the floodwaters.

The anger of the flood victims poses a danger to the already struggling government, now competing with Islamist movements to deliver aid in a region with strong Taliban influence.

“We need tents. Just look around,” said flood victim Faisal Islam, sitting on the only dry ground he could find in Nowshera district — a highway median — surrounded by hundreds of people in makeshift shelters constructed from dirty sheets and plastic tarps.

Like many other residents of Pakistan’s northwest, people camped out by the highway in Kamp Koroona village waded through the water to their damaged houses to salvage their remaining possessions, usually just a few mud-covered plates and chairs.

“This is the only shirt I have. Everything else is buried,” Mr. Islam said.

The army has given them some cooking oil and sugar, but Mr. Islam complained that they needed much more.

Now people in the northwest also face the threat of waterborne disease, which could kill thousands more if health workers cannot deliver enough clean drinking water and treat and isolate any patients in crowded relief camps.

“To avert the looming threat of spread of waterborne diseases, especially cholera, we have dispatched dozens of mobile medical teams in the affected districts,” said Sohail Altaf, the top medical official in Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa.

Officials have yet to receive concrete reports of cholera cases, but fear of an outbreak is high, Mr. Altaf said. Patients with stomach problems from dirty water are being treated in government medical camps, he said.

The disastrous flooding comes at a time when the weak and unpopular Pakistani government already is struggling to cope with a faltering economy and a brutal war against Taliban militants that has killed thousands of people in the past few years.

The death toll from the disaster has ranged from about 870, provided by the prime minister’s office, to 1,200, given by Bashir Ahmed Bilour, senior minister in Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa, who warned that it could go even higher. More than 2 million people have been displaced, he said.

Pakistan’s international partners have tried to bolster the government’s response by offering millions of dollars in emergency aid.

The United Nations and the United States announced Saturday that they would provide $10 million dollars each in emergency assistance. The United States also has provided rescue boats, water filtration units, prefabricated steel bridges and thousands of packaged meals that Pakistani soldiers tossed from helicopters as flood victims scrambled to catch them.

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