At least 18 women and girls have died when a crowd waiting for handouts of flour swelled and panicked in Pakistan's most populous city.
Stampede for food kills 18 in Pakistan
15 Sep 2009
Next A family member of a stampede victim cries with her child at a morgue in Karachi Photo: REUTERS
An ambulance is seen at the scene of a stampede, where over a dozen women and children perished while gathered to collect donated food items Photo: REUTERS
The stampede in Karachi came during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, a traditional time for charitable acts including giving away food.
Pakistan's battered economy, combined with higher than usual prices for staples such as sugar due to alleged hoarding by producers, has made this Ramadan a particularly needy time for the country's largely impoverished population of 175 million.
At times, however, the food giveaways have turned rowdy and dangerous.
The incident occurred in a small building with narrow passages. As more women entered to get the flour, some panicked and guards used strong-arm tactics to clear the building, officials and witnesses said.
Wasim Ahmad, Karachi police chief, said at least 18 women and girls died in the ensuing rush. Mohammad Amin Khan of Karachi Civil Hospital said some of the women had suffocated and that there were at least 20 bodies.
"Hundreds of women were pushing to enter into the small hall, and guards started beating us to get the place cleared," said 30-year-old Kulsoom, who gave only one name and ended up among the many wounded.
"I fell down and was being crushed. My heart was missing beats, and I thought I was dying."
Panicked relatives streamed into the hospital, while others brought limp bodies in the backs of trucks or in their arms. Some women wailed while laying on stretchers.
The flour giveaway was organized by a private donor who Ahmad said was detained for not giving police prior notice of the event. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani ordered an inquiry.
Karachi, a southern port city, is Pakistan's commercial heart, but many of its residents live in dire conditions.
"Poverty is on the rise, there is a desperation among people," local government official Javed Hanif said. "Naturally, when people are frustrated, whenever they get such an opportunity, they try to grab the maximum."
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