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Pakistan: Flood disaster resembles "slow tsunami"

Aid groups struggle to reach devastated regions as flood waters leave millions homeless.

Pakistan flood victims
Pakistani flood-affected families travel through water as they return home to Bassera village in Punjab province on Aug. 20.(Banaras Khan/AFP/Getty Images)

GENEVA —With an area the size of Italy now underwater and largely inaccessible, Pakistan needs immediate massive relief that the United States has the logistics capability and resources to provide.

But the last few years of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have made it politically difficult for the U.S. to deploy military helicopters and transport planes, even on humanitarian missions, especially in areas struggling with extremist groups.

The scale of the disaster is so vast that even large international aid agencies are struggling to reach many parts of Pakistan.

The fact that Pakistan’s homegrown Taliban has repeatedly attacked aid groups operating in the country’s stricken northwest frontier doesn’t help matters.

The flooding has been so dramatic that even the U.N. headquarters here in Geneva is uncertain exactly how many people are in need of help. The Pakistan government said more than 20 million people have been affected. The U.N. said anywhere from 6 million to 8 million are in serious need of immediate assistance and an estimated 900,000 homes have been completely destroyed. At least 4 million people are now without shelter.

The World Health Organization in Geneva reported Friday that more than 400,000 Pakistanis are suffering from acute diarrhea from drinking polluted water and another 120,000 are suffering from respiratory diseases. Pakistan’s foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, speaking at the U.N., described the situation as a “tsunami in slow motion,” with consequences that are likely to accumulate and grow larger with time.

U.N. aid agencies confirm that while the flood is receding in the north, the mass of water is moving towards the more densely populated south. Far from over, the crisis is actually growing.

Increasing airlift capacity is a top priority, said Emilia Casella, a spokesperson for the World Food Program (WFP), in Geneva.

“We can reach some of these areas one day, and then the next we can’t” she said.