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Pakistan Seeks Help With Drought

May 8, 2000

CHACHRO, Pakistan (AP) _ Pakistan’s military leader appealed Monday to Pakistanis at home and abroad to send help amid a drought that has left at least 127 people dead, with doctors warning that more could die from contaminated water supplies.

Gen. Pervez Musharraf went on national television Monday with his appeal for Pakistanis to donate to help victims of the drought, which has also effected millions in Afghanistan and India.

Musharraf gave a personal guarantee that the money would be carefully monitored and spent ``judiciously.″

The governor of southern Sindh province, Azim Daoudpota, said Sunday 127 people had died over the past three months, mostly in the Tharparkar region near the border with India, amid blistering temperatures and severe water shortages.

The little water still available in the region could be too contaminated to drink, said Zulfikar Shah, a doctor from Mirpurkhas, some 48 miles southwest of Tharparkar. He said Sunday that samples from the region indicate that the water ``can infect people with diarrhea and tuberculosis,″ as well as less threatening ailments.

Over the weekend, Musharraf asked people to pray for rain and announced a $37 million aid package for the worst hit areas. The money is being used to get food and water to the area and help relocate people who are able to move to areas with water.

The United Nations last week said the provincial governments in Pakistan have been shouldering much of the burden of the drought. So far there has been little international assistance.

Exact figures have been difficult to attain, but in Sindh and Baluchistan, where the problem has been the worst, it is estimated that tens of thousands of people have been forced to relocate and thousands of cattle have died from lack of water.

In neighboring Afghanistan a similar catastrophe is occurring.

``If the international community doesn’t help, there will be a big calamity,″ said Qari Rehmatullah, the Taliban deputy minister of water and power. He said Afghanistan’s southern and southwestern provinces of Kandahar, Helmand, Zabul, Ghazni and Urzgan are the hardest hit by severe water shortage.

``Hundreds of people will die if we don’t get help and quickly,″ he said.

The U.N. has made an appeal for $1.8 million of emergency aid for Afghanistan and is expected to make a further appeal at the end of May. Nomads have been relocated to cities where water is available, but in many cases as much as 90 percent of their herds have died, say U.N. workers in Afghanistan.

In India’s western states of Rajasthan and Gujarat, the drought has affected more than 50 million people and killed thousands of cows, goats and buffaloes. Thirty million people in nine other Indian states are facing water shortages.

So far there have been no reports of human deaths, but hundreds of thousands of people are on the move in search of water.

In Pakistan’s Tharparker region, about 300 miles east of Karachi, wells have run dry. In Chachro over the weekend, people sat on the dusty ground outside a single-story government building waiting for distributions of boiled rice and potatoes

``Whatever food the government is giving to us is insufficient for my family,″ said 70-year-old Mandhro, a cattleman, who gave only a single name.

``We have to beg people for food and still we are hungry,″ said Mandhro, sitting under a leafless tree with his wife. ``My three sons are roaming around in search of work or food. Let’s see whether they have any luck today.″

``All my goats have died and I have no other income. I don’t know what we will do,″ he said.

Tharparkar stretches over 13,640 square miles and is occupied by 1 million people, most dependent on cattle raising. Carcasses of camels, sheep and goats litter the narrow bumpy roads that weave through the region.

Update hourly