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Pakistan endures worst floods 'in living memory'

Monday August 20, 2007

As flood waters swept through villages in southern Pakistan recently, families were forced to flee, taking only what they could carry. Their livestock, their businesses, their homes were either inundated or washed away and they set up makeshift communal shelters in schools, on rooves and under plastic sheets in the sweltering heat.

And while the waters are starting to subside, the combined effects of heavy storms and cyclone are becoming clearer and it is understood that at least 296 people have died across Pakistan, with 88,000 houses damaged and 1.65 million people affected.

Experienced Australian Red Cross aid worker Don Atkinson was immediately on the ground as part of an international reconnaissance team that assesses the damage and plans how best to meet families' urgent and ongoing needs. He helped coordinate the best position for three emergency response units specialised in water and sanitation, which are now operating in affected areas.

'They haven't seen floods like this in living memory,' says Don Atkinson, who has witnessed devastating floods in three of his nine missions with Red Cross and knows all too well the challenges that villagers across the region will face in months to come.

'The flood came with such volume and intensity that people who are caught in the worst-affected areas of Baluchistan and Sindh have lost everything.'

'You can almost pick the problems that you're going to see after a flood like this. Generally there will be lots of stagnant water, people will want to drink it and it'll make them sick. Mosquitoes will breed, and that means malaria. They'll lose belongings, pets, stock, family members. Then they'll have to rebuild their lives,' says Don.

AusAID has given Australian Red Cross $1 million toward the response by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Our contribution to the response will be used by the Federation to provide emergency shelter and support the Pakistan Red Crescent to distribute food parcels, essential non-food items and provide short-term basic shelter and health needs.