Pakistan's ruling party losing support among flood victims

MEHMOOD KOT, Pakistan Sat Sep 4, 2010 11:33am IST

Flood victims wait for food to be distributed by a charity organization in Pakistan's Muzaffargarh district of Punjab province September 3, 2010.  REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

Flood victims wait for food to be distributed by a charity organization in Pakistan's Muzaffargarh district of Punjab province September 3, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Damir Sagolj

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MEHMOOD KOT, Pakistan (Reuters) - A month after Pakistan's worst natural disaster, those most affected have lost almost everything they had. But the ruling political party is losing things too: It is losing the poor's vote.

In Mehmood Kot, 40 km (25 miles) east of Multan in southern Punjab, day labourer Mohammad Ramazan says he won't vote again for his representative in parliament because she has done nothing for his demolished village.

He said Hina Rabbani Khar, minister of state for finance and economic affairs, just drove through the village after the floods and didn't stop.

"I thought she would take care of us, but it did not happen," he said. "In the campaign, they promise a lot, but they do not take care of us."

The floods have deepened anger with the government of President Asif Ali Zardari, who also heads the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) which was already perceived as ineffective.

Khar, a PPP member of parliament, told Reuters she had been to the village three times since the floods ripped through Pakistan, forcing at least 6 million from their homes and killing more than 1,600 people.

"Tell me who is ready to deal with the disaster like this," Khar said. "We all saw what happened with Katrina in the United States. ... Here you are looking at a slow-moving disaster, literally inching foward, through the length of your country."

Her explanations don't matter much to Ramazan, who lost two children to diarrhoea in the past month. Rukhsana and Abdulhakim were just two years old and five months old.

"We've been shattered," he said. "At this point we have nothing. I have nothing to give to my children. Eid is coming, but I have nothing."

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"PLEASE DON'T MAKE US BEGGARS"

Though the village is 20 km (12 miles) from the Indus, it was inundated from two directions because local officials tried to block the floodwaters by diverting the river into a nearby canal.

That broke, however, submerging Ramazan's home in 8-10 feet of water. Water from another canal hit the town from another direction shortly after that.

"We lost crops, sugarcane, cotton," said Rana Farmanullah, a resident and employee of Punjab's agriculture and water management service. "We left the houses, but when we returned, we didn't find anything. Robbers took everything. Electronics, jewellery. The whole village was looted."

He blames the local and federal government for making the disaster worse after the past month, he said. People are getting aid that don't need it, he said, such as politicians' supporters.

"It's beyond my understanding why this is happening and why they (the government) have not been able to cope with this situation," said Ramazan. "I don't know what is the solution and how long we must face this problem."

"The government is responsible for all this," echoed Farmanullah. "They can do it, they have the power. But they are not doing it."

Not so, counters Khar.

"It's huge, it's absolutely huge," she said. "From my constituency there are 21 union councils, 20 of them severely, severely affected. ... So the scale of the disaster is huge."

Only the army, Islamist charities such as Jamaat-ud-Dawa and foreign countries such as Saudi Arabia and the United States have helped them, Ramazan said.

In the United States, an ally which regards Pakistan as a front-line state in its war against the Taliban, concerns have grown that Islamist charities linked to militants had increased their involvement in the flood relief effort, possibly exploiting anger to gain recruits.

People said they need jobs more than charity or aid.

"We don't need charity or anything," Farmanullah said. "That would make us beggars. ... We are poor, but we are hard workers. Please don't make us beggars."

(Additional reporting by Kamran Haider and Asim Tanveer; Editing by Sugita Katyal)

(For more Reuters coverage of Pakistan, see: here)

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