UN warns on waterborne disease risk among flood-affected Pakistanis

16 August 2010

Waterborne diseases continue to pose great risk to millions of people affected by the devastating floods in Pakistan, the United Nations warned today, a day after Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, on a visit to the country, described the “heart-wrenching” suffering he witnessed among flood survivors.

The UN World Health Organization (WHO) said that in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, one of the hardest-hit provinces, acute diarrhoea is the leading cause of illness and accounted for nearly one in five patient visits since the floods began. The problem has also been reported in Balochistan, Punjab and Sindh, the agency reported.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimated that as many as 3.5 million children in affected areas may now be at risk of diseases carried through contaminated water and insects. UNICEF plans to provide clean water to 6 million people.

“The lack of clean water and the unavailability of medication, in the aftermath of these floods, is a deadly combination. When added to the poor living conditions and the lack of food, which contribute to vulnerability, the picture is gruesome,” said Guido Sabatinelli, WHO’s representative in Pakistan.

Acute respiratory tract infections and skin diseases are the other health problems among those affected, according to WHO. Malaria could also pose a major threat as mosquitoes breed in the stagnant flood water.

Mr. Ban visited Pakistan at the weekend to demonstrate the support of the UN and the international community in the wake of what has been described at the country’s worst disaster in living memory, having claimed more than 1,200 lives and leaving at least 2 million homeless.

“I'm here to see what is going on. I’m here also to urge the world community to speed up their assistance to the Pakistani people,” the Secretary-General told reporters on arrival.

The Government estimated that 20 million people have been affected by the floods. The UN and its partners plan to assist at least 8 million people who are in urgent need of life-saving shelter, food, clean water, and health care. Based on a preliminary assessment of immediate needs, UN and non-UN humanitarian agencies have already requested $459.7 million through the Pakistan Initial Floods Emergency Response Plan, which was launched last week.

Donors have so far contributed or promised $125 million, or 27 per cent of the requested amount, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Speaking at a news conference after touring the affected areas, Mr. Ban reported scenes of washed-out roads, bridges and even whole villages, as well as people marooned on tiny islands with flood waters all around them.

“I will never forget the destruction and suffering I have witnessed today. In the past I have visited the scenes of many natural disasters around the world, but nothing like this,” he stated. “The scale of this disaster is so large so many people, in so many places, in so much need.”

“These unprecedented floods demand unprecedented assistance,” stated the Secretary-General. “The flood waves must be matched with waves of global support.”

He also announced that he will allocate a further $10 million from the UN's Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) for the relief effort, bringing the total disbursement from the fund since the beginning of the crisis to $27 million.

Before travelling to the flood-affected areas, Mr. Ban met separately with President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, and expressed the solidarity of the UN with the Government and people of Pakistan.

He said he hoped his visit will help accelerate the rate of generous support from the international community, and noted that the immediate relief efforts would need to be complemented by longer-term reconstruction, with help from the UN and global partners.

“As the waters recede, we must move quickly to help people build back their country and pick up the pieces of their lives. Farmers will need seeds, fertilizers and tools to replant. Education, health and nutrition need to be restored quickly.

“In the longer term, the huge damage to infrastructure must be repaired. The UN will be part of all this too,” said Mr. Ban, who added that he will report to the General Assembly on his visit later this week.

Meanwhile, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees reported that an airlift of relief supplies arrived in Quetta today to help flood survivors in urban centres in Balochistan province. Four Government cargo planes moved 64 tons of tents, plastic sheets and mosquito nets from UNHCR stockpiles in Peshawar to Quetta to help speed up relief efforts. More airlifts are expected, pending the availability of aircraft.

In a related development, Irina Bokova, the Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), has expressed her sadness and concern about the flood devastation in Pakistan and pledged the agency support for those affected.

UNESCO is preparing to send a scientific mission to help the Pakistani authorities upgrade their flood management capacity. The agency will also help carry out an evaluation of needs in preparation for launching emergency and post-disaster educational projects.

It warned that the floods could affect the archaeological site of Moenjodaro, an immense and ancient urban centre built of baked bricks that was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1980. The site is located just two kilometres from the Indus River.


♦ Receive daily updates directly in your inbox - Subscribe here to a topic.
♦ Download the UN News app for your iOS or Android devices.