As Waters Recede in Pakistan, Frustration Mounts

No matter how you travel in Pakistan today -- by helicopter, on foot or sometimes not at all -- one thing is clear. Pakistan was not ready for this.

A biblical flood has covered a fifth of the country -- an area the size of England. The flood swelled rivers to 10 or 20 times their normal sizes. And still, every day, more rain.

The world wasn't ready, either. This is an unprecedented disaster. It's a disaster that has failed to attract attention or support on par with the suffering.

Flood Of Relief Slow In PakistanPlay
Flood Of Relief Slow In Pakistan

The United Nations is making desperate pleas for $500 million. But so far Pakistan, the United States and the United Kingdom are the only countries mounting any meaningful response.

ABC News tried to fly with some of the 19 U.S. Army and Marine helicopters sent here to help deliver relief, but stormy weather kept us -- and the flight crews -- on the ground one day, then another, and another.

We felt helpless waiting to report the news. Imagine the people waiting for the most basic necessities.

Maj. Dan Rice was rushed here from combat in Afghanistan to take a lead in the relief efforts. He showed us his squadron, loaded with supplies but going nowhere.

VIDEO: Pakistan flood victimsPlay
Estimated 20 Million Affected by Pakistan Floods

"It's extremely frustrating," said Rice. "We know there's people up there who need to get to safety."

A break in the weather finally came over the weekend. And we took off for the hard-hit Swat valley, in Pakistan's northwest.

It is a stunning landscape of towering peaks and deep gorges. It's a magnet for tourists ... and terrorists.

Until earlier this year, this was the scene of a major Pakistani offensive against the Taliban, launched under pressure from the United States. But now the area is facing a new fight.

No Roads In or Out

From the air, we saw every single bridge destroyed. On the ground were villages whose only remaining tie to the outside world is by helicopter.

The city of Bahrain, population 40,000, has no power, no clean water, and no roads in or out.

"Here 160-80 houses [were] destroyed," said Bakht Amin Kareemi, the mayor.

The river is still twice its normal size. Villagers are only now coming to realize how much destruction the flood left behind.

With so much chaos, the Taliban are moving back into areas they've been barred from before, delivering help where the government is not. And there are widespread fears that the militants will stay.

In its wake, the flooding is also leaving behind a trail of water-borne diseases. It's brutally ironic: water everywhere, but none of it safe to drink. Tens of thousands are now infected. It's a race against time to keep debilitating sickness from becoming deadly.

Pakistan Floods: Cholera Threat

In many areas, all that's standing in the way of spreading disease are tiny, charity-run clinics. Some 15,000 families depend on a clinic in Bahrain, staffed by just handful of volunteers, to survive.

Doctors were seeing an outbreak of acute diarrhea, a precursor to fatal cholera. One woman, Hamida, brought in her 2-year-old son, worried his fever could be the sign of something worse.

Back in the capital, Islamabad, you could be forgiven for thinking there isn't any crisis at all. No aid convoys visible, just the same rush hour traffic. The Pakistani government has been widely criticized, loathed even, for a plodding relief effort.

And that anger is now rising to the surface. Today, residents in the south blocked a highway to protest government inaction. Wherever we've traveled, we've heard deep frustration.

It's a measure of just how stumbling the Pakistani and global response has been that the United States -- which is normally about the only thing Pakistanis hate more than their own government -- is getting some credit for mounting an enormous relief effort here. Contributions include 19 much-needed helicopters, tons of food and $100 million in aid.

People we met were both grateful and pleasantly surprised. Among them was the mayor of Bahrain, who told me the United States is outdoing even Pakistan's Muslim allies.

"In this disaster, the Islamic countries give their aid after America," said Bakht Amin Kareemi. "Surprise, yes."

But that goodwill is a tiny bright spot in a gloomy scene. We've covered numerous disasters, but never one where the government appears so completely overwhelmed.