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Pakistan's ailing flood survivors begin Ramadan

Pakistani villagers chase relief supplies dropped from a Pakistani navy helicopter at a flooded area of Ghaus Pur near Sukkur, in Pakistan's Sindh province, on Wednesday. (Shakil Adil/Associated Press)

Last Updated: Thursday, August 12, 2010 | 5:06 AM : Millions of Pakistani flood survivors already short on food and water began the fasting month of Ramadan on Thursday, a normally festive, social time marked this year by misery and fears of an uncertain future.

Food prices have tripled in some parts of the country because of damage to crops, roads and bridges, adding to the pain of the 14 million people affected by one of the worst natural disasters to hit the already poor nation.

"Ramadan or no Ramadan, we are already dying of hunger," said Mai Hakeema, 50, as she sat by her ailing husband in a tent outside the northern city of Sukkur. "We are fasting forcibly, and mourning our losses."

During Ramadan, observant Muslims fast daily from dawn to dusk to control their desires and show empathy for the poor. The month is marked by increased attendance at mosques, a rise in charitable giving and family gatherings.

'I cannot disobey God, so I am fasting ... no matter what the conditions are.' —Fazal Rabi, villager

One of the country's top religious scholars, Mufti Muneebur Rehman, said victims living in difficult conditions dependent on charity could skip the fast for now.

Ghullam Fareed, a villager in easter Punjab province, said he would be "sad to miss the first day of fasting."

"Later, when we reach home, we will do compensatory fasting," he said of his family.

In the northwest, where residents tend to follow a stricter form of Islam, many refugees insisted on fasting.

"I cannot disobey God, so I am fasting as it is part of my faith no matter what the conditions are," said Fazal Rabi, 47, from a tent village in Akbarpura.

International aid

People carry relief supplies and wade through floodwater in Charsadda, in Pakistan's northwest, on Wednesday. (Mohammad Sajjad/Associated Press)

The floods hit the country more than two weeks ago, beginning in the northwest before spreading down the country and inundating thousands of villages. At least 1,500 people have been killed, and the UN estimates up to 7 million people need emergency assistance.

On Wednesday, the UN appealed for $460 million to provide immediate help, including shelter, food, clean water, sanitation and medical care.

"Make no mistake, this is a major catastrophe," UN humanitarian chief John Holmes told diplomats from several dozen countries in launching the appeal in New York. "We have a huge task in front of us. The death toll has so far been relatively low compared to other major natural disasters, but the numbers affected are extraordinarily high."

The Canadian government pledged $2 million in aid to Pakistan on Aug. 3, including $1.25 million to help the World Food Programme deliver food to affected areas, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. The remainder, $750,000, went to the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies for non-food and emergency shelter essentials.

The Pakistani government's own response to the crisis has been criticized by many as too slow and patchy, and the civilian leaders have struggled to rally public opinion in their favour.

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani flew to southwestern Baluchistan province Thursday to see flood-hit areas, and said Pakistan still needs more helicopters to assist in the relief work.

"We will try our best to reach millions of people to ensure that they get food and other basic items during and after the month of Ramadan," he said while aboard a military plane.

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