With an estimated one-fifth of Pakistan's land mass submerged under devastating flood waters that began nearly three weeks ago, aid workers are struggling to deliver critical supplies to millions of Pakistanis in need of food and water to survive.
Maurizio Giuliano, a United Nations spokesman, described the depth of calamity: "The picture is a gruesome one."
Gruesome pictures unfolded across Pakistan as desperate flood survivors took to the waters, floating on tires and rubber tubes to look for food. Torrential rain has brought the country's worst flooding in at least 80 years, killing at least 1,300 people. Aid workers say the flooding has affected some 20 million people, and that at least 8 million survivors need immediate emergency aid.
Delivering that aid isn't easy: Rising waters have kept relief workers from entering some of the hardest-hit areas populated by stranded survivors. Officials from World Vision-a Christian relief agency with offices in Pakistan-said that the increasing water levels and the threat of flash floods kept their workers from entering at least two villages. The agency reported that shortages of fuel compounded the difficulties in reaching victims. In the meantime, the agency has delivered food and water to some 21,000 people who have found shelter in school buildings along main roads.
Other Christian groups-like the U.K.-based Barnabas Fund- also are managing to slowly deliver aid to needy populations. The group's officials say they are working with local churches and Christian organizations to distribute food, water, and medicine to thousands of people.
Thousands more survivors are still waiting on aid, and growing deeply desperate: As military personnel-including U.S. troops in 11 helicopters-try to deliver assistance to remote areas, aid groups are reporting looting of relief trucks by mobs of hungry Pakistanis fearful that supplies won't reach them in time to survive.
The news could grow worse: Officials are worried that the swelling waters could sweep in a wave of waterborne diseases, including cholera, and produce a second wave of deaths. UN officials worry that a slow start to fundraising for relief efforts could compound the suffering: They say that donors have met only 40 percent of the initial appeal.
The need will be long-term: An estimated 900,000 people are homeless, and floodwaters have destroyed some 19 million acres of crops. That means food supplies will plummet, and next year's harvest may be woefully small.
But for the millions of languishing Pakistanis, still waiting for the most basic supplies, some of the worst news is another stark reality: Monsoon season is only half over.