Disease the new threat as UN agencies ramp up relief efforts in flood-hit Pakistan

3 August 2010
Health assessment being conducted in flood-affected Pakistan

United Nations humanitarian agencies warned today of the possibility of waterborne disease outbreaks emerging in north-western Pakistan, where an estimated 1,400 people have already died in the region’s worst flooding in living memory and more heavy rains are forecast.

The agencies are stepping up their relief efforts as thousands of people remain trapped by flood waters, awaiting rescue and evacuation by boat or helicopter. Food, clean drinking water, tents and medical services are among the priorities for survivors, many of whom have lost their homes.

Supporting Pakistani Government relief efforts, the World Health Organization (WHO) is dispatching medicine and other health supplies capable of treating more than 200,000 people to affected areas.

WHO pointed to the control of waterborne diseases, such as diarrhoea and respiratory infections, as well as treating the injured, ensuring the quality of drinking water and enhancing public access to health facilities as the main health concerns at present.

One third of Pakistan’s 135 districts have been impacted by the flooding. According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), at least three million people – more than one third of them children – have been affected by the monsoonal rains and floods.

WHO said that at least 39 health facilities have been destroyed, with tons of medicines lost. While no outbreaks have been confirmed yet, the agency expressed concern that the risk is high.

“There is a tremendous need for more medical and related materials to treat people affected by the humanitarian emergency, as well as to immunize children, particularly against polio and measles,” WHO said in a news release.

Medical teams are reaching out to affected areas with a focus on maternal, neo-natal, child health, nutrition and psychological assistance. More than 15,000 people, many suffering from diarrhoea, have already been treated.

The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) is sending delivery kits to help with childbirth, as well as reproductive health and medical supplies to assist the uprooted, especially pregnant women and infants.

Ali Treki, President of the General Assembly, expressed his deep sadness at the “heavy loss of life and the widespread devastation” caused by the flooding.

According to a statement issued by his spokesperson, Mr. Treki “salutes the resilience of the people of Pakistan whose courage should be matched by the continued commitment of the entire international community.”

August is the traditional monsoon month in Pakistan, and with more rains expected to pummel the area, UN agencies are continuing to distribute food, tents and other urgently needed supplies.

In the areas of Peshawar, Mardan, Charsadda and Mowshera in the hardest-hit province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK), the UN World Food Programme (WFP) has reached 40,000 with life-saving rations in the past three days and is scaling up its food deliveries.

The agency is also working to identify affected communities across the province, formerly known as the North-West Frontier Province, and plans to start distributions with its partners in Swat and Dera Ismail Khan in the coming days.

It is estimated that some 1.8 million people in KPK are in need of food assistance.

“We are prioritising the worst-affected areas,” said WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran. “More distributions are due to start as WFP mobilizes staff to overcome immense logistical challenges.”

Families coping with the worst floods in nearly a century are being given a one-month supply of food, including high-energy biscuits and ready-to-eat food for children.

The floods have caused major damage to thousands of homes and infrastructure, including roads and dozens of bridges, isolating some heavily affected areas. Reaching those in need is a challenge, with many areas cut off because roads and bridges have been washed away.

For its part, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has already delivered 10,000 tents and other relief items in KPK and Balochistan provinces, and hopes to procure 20,000 additional tents.

The agency said that it aims to reach at least 240,000 of the most vulnerable flood victims with shelter supplies, blankets, buckets and other items.

Most of those uprooted by the floods – including Afghan refugees and Pakistanis already displaced – are crammed into public buildings such as schools.

“Those who survived the punishing floods are still at grave risk,” said António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

“The Pakistani people of this region have been serving as the generous hosts of more than a million Afghan refugees,” he said. “Now is the time for the international community to demonstrate the same kind of solidarity with them.”

Both UNHCR and WFP, whose warehouses storing supplies have been flooded, have appealed for additional resources to cover this emergency.

Damage sustained by its facilities, storing food destined for Afghanistan, is complicating WFP’s relief efforts in Pakistan’s neighbour, where some 50,000 people are also believed to have been affected by floods.

This year, the agency plans to help 7 million Afghans through food-for-work, food-for-training and food-for-education schemes. Some 80 per cent of WFP food bound for Afghanistan transits from Pakistan.

UN agencies are also rushing relief assistance to thousands of families in central and eastern Afghanistan affected by flooding.

UNICEF said it is working with the Afghan Government and other UN agencies and partners to respond to the hygiene, nutrition and primary health needs of flood victims, and has provided hundreds of tents to Nangarhar and Kunar provinces, which border northwest Pakistan.

The Afghan Government estimates that the floods have left several thousand individuals homeless in northeast Kapisa, central Ghazni, Laghman, Nangarhar, Kunar, Logar, Khost and northern Parwan provinces, where at least 2,500 houses have been destroyed.

An estimated 80 people have reportedly died in Afghanistan, and much of the arable land, where crops were planted, has been inundated.


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