Pakistan Christians denied aid

Vatican City - Christians affected by the devastating floods in Pakistan face "systematic discrimination" in the distribution of aid, the news agency of a Vatican missionary body reported Thursday.

The Fides news agency, a branch of the Vatican's Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, said aid was handled either by Muslim relief organisations or by government officials close to Islamic fundamentalists.

Both discriminated against Christians and other minorities in distributing aid essential to survival, it said.

About 200 000 Christian refugees in the Punjab province and about 600 000 Christians and Hindus in the Sindh province are affected by the phenomenon, Fides said, citing NGO sources on the ground.

"The Christian refugees are often ignored. They are purposely not identified and registered. Thus, they are automatically excluded from any health care or food, as they supposedly do not exist," said a local NGO worker cited by Fides.

Torrential monsoon rains triggered massive floods in a fifth of the volatile country, an area roughly the size of England.

The catastrophe has affected more than 17 million people and left eight million dependent on aid to survive.

The Pakistani government has confirmed that 1 600 people have been killed and 2 366 hurt, but officials warn that millions are at risk from diseases and food shortages.

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