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Many Pakistanis Still Waiting For Flood Aid

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DAIRA DINPANAH, Pakistan — Abdul Rehman and his family live under a tree next to a pile of rubble on a newly created island where his house used to be.

In the month since his home was destroyed in the raging floodwaters that inundated Pakistan, he has gotten no aid of any kind from the government or private aid groups to help him survive, he said.

Frustrated and desperate, he joined a protest with dozens of other villagers that blocked the main road in this area 10 days ago. In response, police opened a criminal investigation against him, he said. And he still hasn't gotten any food or even a tarp to shield his family of six from the blazing summer sun, he said.

More than 3 million people have yet to receive desperately needed food aid, according to the U.N., and the Pakistani government says nearly 1 million people have received no help of any sort.

"They need everything," said Ahmad Kamal, spokesman for Pakistan's disaster management agency, who appealed to international donors to send tents, ambulances, mobile clinics and hygiene kits.

The lack of aid has led to anger against an already-fragile government that is seen as a key U.S. ally in the battle against Islamic extremists along the frontier with Afghanistan.

The anger itself is hampering relief efforts, with the Red Cross twice halting distributions after being confronted by mobs of people upset they were not getting enough aid, the organization said Thursday.

Part of the problem is simply the scale of the crisis. The floods that began their slow wave of destruction across Pakistan at the end of July swamped as much as one-fifth of the country, leaving 8 million people dependent on aid, according to the U.N. And that number keeps growing as more areas are affected.

"This seems to be a never-ending disaster," said Stacey Winston, a U.N. spokeswoman.

But many of those affected also blame the problem on corruption by local government officials, who steer aid to their supporters and withhold it from others.

Of the 32 families in Daira Dinpanah, about 90 miles (140 kilometers) west of the city of Multan, only seven who have ties to local political leaders have received aid of any kind, said Khalid Iqbal, 35, who stands on the side of the road clutching a list of all those needing assistance, waiting for an aid group to pass by. The remainder have survived by scrounging meals at the local mosque, or, like Rehman, temporarily bouncing between relatives' houses before returning home.

A month after the flood hit, the village's fields are still filled with water and its roads are a muddy swamp. Rehman's house is surrounded by floodwaters and reachable only by a makeshift bridge of two steel girders laid end to end, held aloft in the middle by a bed sunk in the water.

His snack shop on the road is gone and even the ledger where he recorded the debts his customers owed him was destroyed.

"There is nothing for us beside these broken homes," the 30-year-old said, surveying the piles of mud and brick where his house once stood. "We left this area in the night, at 2 a.m., with only the clothes we were wearing. We still have only the clothes we were wearing.

"The government should give us shelter, give us money to rebuild our houses and to buy some food. If it can't do that, than at least it should give us tents so that our children live in respectable conditions. Here we are living in the open sky. How can we survive like this?" he said.

Ghulam Mustafa, 30, said he only received food once, a package of flour and other relief goods sufficient to feed a family of six for a week, but only enough to sustain his family of 10 for a few days.

When he later appealed to local officials for more food, they sent him away, he said.

"We are running behind the (aid) trucks, but they give us nothing. They are not listening to us," he said. "Nobody even came here to ask us, 'What do you need?'"

Without the tent Mustafa said he desperately needs, he, his wife and his eight children are sleeping in the rubble of their house under a blue tarp borrowed from a neighbor.

"But he keeps asking for it back," Mustafa said.

Local opposition politician Javed Akhter said the vast majority of the government aid is being funneled to the supporters of the local administration, and rued that his relatively well off region has been reduced to a town of beggars.

Kamal said workers from the disaster management agency sent aid to the affected areas but could not monitor how it was distributed.

Malik Ahmed Hunajara, the local representative to the provincial assembly, denied political favors were influencing aid distribution.

"This is not true," he said. "There is a huge population that is affected and the government cannot give to everybody."

Local and international aid organizations were trying to meet the shortfall.

The army was as well. Lt. Iqbal Khizar and his unit have been roaming remote parts of Muzaffargarh district with trucks filled with aid in recent days, giving emergency help to those that have fallen through the cracks.

In other places, Islamist groups – some with ties to extremists – were filling the vacuum.

The only source of food for the Tibba Jamal Wala tent camp along the side of the road in Muzaffargarh is the Islamic group Falah-e-Insaniat, which is believed to be a front for Lashkar-e-Taiba, the banned group blamed for the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

"We have to provide food for people in the far areas where no one is going," said Hijrat Khan, a relief official with the group. He overseas dozens of people cooking meals of rice and potatoes that are then shoveled into plastic bags, stacked in vats, loaded on trucks and delivered to flood victims every evening.

The group has provided cooked meals to 1.5 million flood victims, treated more than 300,000 patients and given rations to 85,000 families, Khan said.

At the camp, residents said the government had given them tents, but nothing else, since the camp was established three weeks ago. Three children died from untreated diarrhea, residents said.

The chief minister of the province came recently, said the government was trying its best, but he brought no aid, said Aijaz Hussein, 27.

On Wednesday, the residents held a protest blocking the road. On Thursday, some government officials came to take a survey of the camp, but again brought no aid.

"I don't know what they are thinking, what is in their minds. They provide us nothing," Hussein said. "Now we will not support the government. Whoever helps us we will support."