SUKKUR, Pakistan - As the disastrous floods recede, something new is rising: suspicions and rumors that powerful officials and landowners used their influence to divert water away from their property and inundate the villages and fields of millions of poor Pakistanis.

The claims are difficult to verify and in some cases may be exaggerated. Yet they have spread like wildfire across the waterlogged countryside, further outraging many flood victims already upset at the government's failure to provide enough food, clean water and shelter.

One of the risks is that Islamist militants could seize on growing anger to increase support for their war against the state.

Even before the floods, many Pakistanis harbored a deep mistrust toward their government and the landowning elite.

"The politicians and the rich and powerful just sacrificed the people," said farmer Mohammed Yousuf, 30, who lost his home and 11 cattle last month when floodwaters surging down the Indus River swept across southern Sindh province.

The floods, triggered by extremely heavy monsoon rains in the northwest at the end of July, have killed more than 1,600 people across Pakistan and affected some 17 million others.

At its peak, the flood covered one-fifth of the country - an area larger than England.

Many people suspect powerful Pakistanis were able to manipulate the flow of water by influencing which levees were breached. Levees are tall dirt and rock embankments meant to prevent a river from overflowing and can be intentionally breached, using explosives or heavy machinery.

It was impossible to verify the validity of the different accusations, but it was clear that many of the allegations were being leveled at the powerful by the largely powerless.

Outrage has been especially pronounced in northern Sindh where hundreds of thousands of people, including Yousuf, watched floods swamp their fields and destroy their homes as the lands of a federal minister on the opposite side of the Indus remained dry.

Many of these flood victims are convinced Labor Minister Khursheed Shah pushed the government to deliberately breach a levee upriver to save his property. The water that surged through the Tori Bund levee inundated dozens of villages and towns west of the river, an area that is more densely populated than the eastern side, where Shah's lands are located.

The labor minister denied any wrongdoing, and Sindh Irrigation Minister Jam Saifullah Dharejo has said Tori Bund was not breached by the government but ruptured when water flowing down the Indus surged unexpectedly.

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