July 8, 2005

Thousands of Pakistanis flee Himalayan flood

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - About 3,000 Pakistani villagers were
forced to evacuate their homes after a large volume of water
flowed down a river from the Indian Himalayas into Pakistan, a
relief official said on Friday.

Pakistani officials said on Thursday India had released the
water into the Chenab river without warning but a Pakistani
flood expert said on Friday the flow was because of heavy rain
in the mountains, and it had not been stored and released by

A relief official in Pakistan's Punjab province, where the
Chenab river enters from Indian-controlled Kashmir, said the
flow was not as heavy as earlier feared.

"We've had to evacuate only about 25 villages. I would say
approximately 3,000 people have been affected, but there has
been no loss of life," said provincial relief commissioner,
Syed Safdar Javed.

"Obviously, crops would be damaged but we don't know the
extent as yet," he said.

The chief of the meteorological department's flood
forecasting division said the heavy flow was because of rain
across the Himalayas and not, as a top weather official said
earlier, because India had unexpectedly released stored water.

"India has not stored and released the water...rain water
has increased the level," said Shaukat Ali Awan.

Water from cross-border rivers is a major source of
disagreement between India and Pakistan and shared rivers are a
main issue in peace talks the nuclear-armed rivals have been
holding over the past year.

The director-general of Pakistan's Meteorological
Department, Qamar-uz-Zaman Chaudhry, said the cause of the
heavy flow was being investigated and it might partly have been
because India had released some water from a damaged dam.

Elsewhere in Pakistan, snow melting in the Hindu Kush
mountains of Afghanistan and northern Pakistan has led to
floods downstream over the past week and about 12,000 people
have had to move out of about 100 villages in northwest and
central Pakistan.