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DADU, Nov 23: The World Food Programme (WFP) pulled out on Friday all motor boats from the 26 inundated villages declared calamity-hit by the government just six days ago after receiving reports from PDMA and NDMA that there are zero rain-affected people in the district.

The decision has brought to a sudden halt movement of 40,000 people living in the marooned villages to nearby towns or hospitals and put brakes for the time being on the ongoing relief operation.

According to provincial coordinator of humanitarian cell of the Sindh relief department, Abdul Waheed Panhwar, logistics coordinator for WFP Pakistan Ms Rie Ishii has sent the department an email, detailing reasons for the decision to pull out the boats.

It said: “First and foremost, we must not forget that the government remains the first responder for this humanitarian situation; there is no international appeal for the humanitarian assistance from the government.

“Secondly, from the government PDMA and NDMA have informed that the number of people affected in Dadu is zero which puts us in a difficult position to justify our intervention and unfortunately we need to take a decision based on our field assessment to withdraw boats from these areas. A few boats will, however, remain in union council Faridabad only,” it concluded.

Mr Panhwar said that distribution of warm clothes and blankets among all villagers would get delayed without motor boats and cautioned it might create a human tragedy when people would start dying of cold and non-supply of medicines and safe drinking water. Sindh Minister for Rehabilitation Haji Muzaffar Shaujra whose ministry controls the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) ducked the question when asked about PDMA’s wrong report and replied instead that his ministry would continue to distribute ration among the affected villagers by any means possible.

Speaking to Dawn over the phone from Islamabad, chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority, Zafar Iqbal Qadir, said that when Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf visited Jacobabad on Sept 16, NDMA was informed that Kashmore-Kandhkot, Jacobabad, Shikarpur, Sukkur, Ghokti and Kambar-Shahdadkot were declared rain-affected districts but not Dadu.

He said that according to reports sent by deputy commissioners, rainwater was still standing in Tangwani taluka of Kashmore-Kandhkot and Thull in Jaccobabad and all rainwater had been drained out from other districts of the province.

Haleem Adil Shaikh, adviser to the Sindh chief minister on relief, who had launched the relief operation in the marooned villages on Nov 2 with the help of 12 motor boats provided by WFP, rejected the PDMA/NDMA report and termed it false.

He said that Dadu was the most affected district by hill torrents coming from Balochistan and Hamal lake water which had affected a population of 40,000 in six union councils.

He believed the situation would remain unchanged for at least three months more and the villagers would certainly need clean drinking water, doctors and medicines and fodder for their cattle, which would be an uphill task for them without boats.

But the department would continue relief operation in the district despite the new impediment, he said, adding he had sent a report to the chief minister against the PDMA and other donor agencies.

PPP MPA from Khairpur Nathan Shah, Imran Zafar Leghari, criticised the PDMA for sending a false report to the WFP and said that western part of Kachho still remained under water. The area was inundated by Hamal lake water and hill torrents coming from Balochistan.

He appealed to President Asif Ali Zardari to take action against PDMA officials.

PPP MPA from Johi, Syed Ghulam Shah Jilani, said that he would take up the issue in the Sindh Assembly.

PPP MNA and former minister of state for agriculture Rafique Ahmed Jamali said that he was an eyewitness to the destruction wrought by rain and floodwaters in the 26 villages where thousands of acres of agricultural land was still under water and economy was in tatters.

He said that he would complain to the president and the prime minister against the PDMA/NDMA officials for sending a false report to an international relief agency.

This correspondent visited the inundated villages on Friday and witnessed thousands of villagers facing great difficulties in going about their daily chores in the union council of Drigh Bala, Chhinni, Sawro, Pat Gul Mohammad, Fareedabad and Mado after retrieval of boats.

Haji Bashir Babar of inundated Gul Babar village said that villagers were hitherto using WFP’s boats to fetch drinking water for their families but now they were forced to consume unclean and unsafe rainwater.

Abdul Nabi Qureshi of Qureshi Boring village in Johi taluka said that 300 houses in the village had been completely surrounded by rainwater for the past three months.

He said that PDMA had not taken any measures to protect them but on the contrary it had caused the only boat the villagers were provided by WFP to pull out.

Mehar Ali Deero of rain-hit Bhambha Deero village said that diseases had broken out among cattle and they had no money to hire a boat to send for veterinary doctors. He appealed to the chief minister to direct the officers concerned to provide them boats.

Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah had declared as calamity-hit 26 villages of six union councils on Nov 17 on the recommendation of his adviser on relief.

The relief department had conducted a house-to-house survey in the villages with the help of civil society organisations on Nov 1 and started distribution of food and non-food items among affected villagers.