SUKKUR, Pakistan — Flooding that has reached the Indus River delta displaced at least 1 million southern Pakistan residents in recent days, U.N. officials said Friday, a significant escalation of what is already the country's worst natural disaster in its history.
Farther upstream in central and northern Pakistan, flooding has begun to recede a month after record monsoon rains swept away roads, bridges and other infrastructure and left millions of people homeless. The death toll stands at 1,600.
In southern Sindh province, however, the floods continue to wreak havoc as they reach cities near the Indus delta. U.N. officials said the floods have forced the evacuation of 1 million people in the last two days, mostly from the Qambar-Shadadkot and Thatta regions in the southern end of the province. In terms of surface area affected by flooding, Sindh is now the hardest-hit of Pakistan's provinces.
"An already colossal disaster is getting worse, and requiring an even more colossal response," said U.N. spokesman Maurizio Giuliano. "The magnitude of this crisis is reaching levels that are even beyond our initial fears."
Officials with the world body say the speed with which the crisis is spreading is outpacing the international community's efforts to reach legions of flood victims who lack access to food, clean drinking water, shelter and health care. U.N. workers are providing drinking water to 2.5 million people but have yet to reach the estimated 3.5 million others still in need.
Relief workers are especially concerned about the risk to children, many of whom were already in poor health before the floods. U.N. officials estimate that at least 70,000 children under the age of 5 and living in flood-affected areas suffered from acute malnutrition before the crisis. Up to 20 percent of children in flooded regions are suffering from diarrhea-related disorders and at high risk of dehydration and malnutrition.
People in the Indus delta region were evacuated this week after the river, bloated to 40 times its normal volume, breached several embankments in the Thatta area.
"People had been warned, but they escaped only after the river broke its banks and the water started to inundate their villages," said Andro Shilakadze, head of the U.N. Children's Fund branch in Karachi, the Sindh capital. "People had to leave in a rush, many of them during the night, taking almost nothing with them. Many are still stranded and are now being rescued by (Pakistani) authorities."