WASHINGTON, Aug. 10, 2010 — U.S. Army helicopters took advantage of a break in the weather to fly relief missions in Pakistan yesterday and today, rescuing 916 people and delivering 89,000 pounds of relief supplies.
Four Chinook helicopters and two Black Hawks aided Pakistani officials in the northwestern part of the country, where flooding and landslides have isolated large swaths of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
To date, U.S. helicopters have rescued 2,305 people and transported 211,000 pounds of supplies in 40 sorties. Weather has been a tremendous obstacle, with monsoon rains still falling over the area. The choppers, based in Afghanistan’s Ghazi air base, could not fly for two days earlier this week.
The flooding in Pakistan may end up being the biggest natural disaster in the nation’s history, United Nations officials said yesterday.
The deadly floods, triggered by the monsoon, have spread from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province to the more populous provinces of Punjab, Balochistan and Sindh in the south, said Martin Mogwanja, U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Pakistan.
The flooding has destroyed or badly damaged more than 250,000 homes, and has left at least 1.5 million people homeless, according to Pakistani and U.N. figures. Pakistani officials say around 1,600 people have died in the floods, and perhaps 4.5 million people are affected in some way in the country.
“What makes this unique is the scale of the disaster and its effect throughout the entire country,” U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Anne W. Patterson said Aug. 6. “The earthquake and the displacement of 2 million people from the Swat Valley were more localized. So while the loss of life … in this disaster may be less, the economic impact and the need for reconstruction assistance over time could well be greater.”
The number of affected people is expected to rise to 6 million by the end of the week, as the flood waters on the Indus River move south. At least 92 bridges over the river and its tributaries have been destroyed, and more than 200 major roads have been damaged, Patterson said. “There are four major dams at risk,” she said. “Crop and livestock loss will affect long-term livelihood and food security.”
Officials with the U.N.’s World Food Program estimated that as many as 2.5 million people will require food assistance.
The United States has added $35 million in assistance to the $10 million already allocated. “Our [Defense Department] colleagues, recognizing the growing crisis, immediately went on a search for emergency meals,” Patterson said. “On [Aug. 7], U.S. aircrews aboard the U.S. Air Force C‑130 and C‑17 transport aircraft flew into Rawalpindi and delivered about 50,000 halal meals in support of a Pakistan government request. That number grew through the week to nearly 436,000 meals.” Halal meals conform with Islamic law.
The United States also has provided prefabricated steel bridges, inflatable boats and water filtration capabilities.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)