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Pakistan Floods: 800,000 Can Only Be Reached by Air

Some 800,000 people have been cut off by floods in Pakistan and can only be reached by air, according to the United Nations.

by Rob Crilly in Islamabad and Ashfaq Yusufzai in Peshawar

The UN added that it needs at least 40 more helicopters to ferry lifesaving aid to increasingly desperate people. More than 1,500 people have been killed as floods swept from north to south across the country, while more than 17 million have been affected.

Pakistani flood affected villagers receive food delivered by an army helicopter in the outskirts of Rajampur. (Photo: AFP) The flood chaos has raised concerns that the humanitarian crisis is being exploited by Islamist militants.

At least 16 aid camps run by militant Islamist groups sites have been shut according to the authorities in the northwestern region of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, as Islamabad to stop the spread of extremists.

With the Pakistani government struggling to meet the needs of millions of homeless, organisations such as the banned charity Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) were quick to set up food and medicine distribution points in affected areas. JuD was banned because of its connections to Lashkar-e-Taiba, the militant group that launched the 2008 attacks on Mumbai.

Abu Saad, a spokesman for Falah-e-Insaniat, a front for JuD, said he had been ordered to shut the organisation's camp in Pir Sabak, close to the town of Nowshera, at the weekend.

"There is no reason for this action", he said. "We are providing meals twice a day to the affected persons in Pir Sabak.

"We are not in competition with the army but it seems to feel threatened by our work."

The vast scale of the devastation overwhelmed the government's early emergency response.

The widespread misery caused by the floods has triggered fresh worries about social unrest, food riots or even a challenge to the government's rule before its term ends in 2013.

Altaf Hussain, leader of one of the governing coalition parties, has called for the return of military rule, sending shock waves through a country that has spent half its short history being run by the generals.

President Asif Ali Zardari broke official silence over the threat posed by an expansion of radical activity in the flooded regions, expressing concerns that insurgents would try to exploit the hardship.

"I see always such organisations and such people taking advantage of this human crisis," he told journalists in Islamabad.

"It is again a challenge to not let them take advantage of this human crisis." He also admitted the scale of devastation meant his administration would face anger in the months ahead, comparing it to the anti-government sentiment generated by the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in the United States.

"There will be discontent, there is no way any nation, even a superpower .... can bring the same level of satisfaction that will be close to the expectations of the people," he said.

But the military revealed it had redeployed helicopters from the fight along the Afghan border against the Taliban to rescue and relief operations in flooded regions. But an official said the move would not weaken the military push against insurgents.

"The first priority of these helicopters is relief work," he said. "They cannot be readily available, but we can bring them back any time if we needed them. We haven't lowered our guard."

The Pakistan army has redeployed about 60,000 troops out of about 550,000 soldiers for relief efforts.

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