Health risks in flood-hit Pakistan still a major concern, say UN agencies

14 September 2010

Health risks remain a major concern in flood-hit Pakistan, where large swathes of territory remain under water one month after the disaster struck and hundreds of thousands of people have yet to receive humanitarian assistance, the United Nations reported today.

“The situation on the ground remains critical,” Elisabeth Byrs of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) told journalists in Geneva, noting that large parts of the province of Sindh are still under water following the floods which began in late July.

In neighbouring Balochistan, authorities in the Nasirabad division estimate that there are currently 400,000 flood-displaced persons in the area, approximately half of whom are from Sindh.

It is believed that nearly 40 per cent of the displaced population in the division has yet to be reached with humanitarian assistance, said Ms. Byrs.

Meanwhile, while the flood waters continue to recede in parts of Punjab province, pools of stagnant water remain and are posing major health risks, she added.

Paul Garwood of the World Health Organization (WHO) said that disease is a major concern, particularly for water- and vector-borne diseases in flood-affected districts, especially in Sindh and Punjab.

The agency has so far distributed enough medicine to treat more than 4 million people, while treatment has been provided for 5.3 million people since the end of July for ailments such as acute diarrhoea, acute respiratory infections, skin diseases and suspected malaria.

Across the country, some 1,200 mobile health facilities are providing treatment in addition to around 900 fixed health facilities. At the same time, the needs remain immense, said Mr. Garwood.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and partners currently provide more than 2.5 million people with clean water everyday. The agency is also supporting local health authorities in chlorinating and testing water sources in the flood-affected areas.

UNICEF, in cooperation with the Government, is implementing hygiene education in relief camps through a “no open defecation campaign” as well as teaching flood survivors to build open pit latrines. As part of the flood relief efforts 2,723 emergency latrines have been built, benefiting 40,000 people. In addition, 400,000 hygiene kits are in the pipeline along with 3 million bars of soap to compliment the hygiene education.

“It is crucial in disaster response that flood-affected communities receive latrines and soap, as well as hygiene education to prevent illness and disease,” said Manuel Bessler, Head of OCHA in Pakistan.

Other major concerns include food, shelter, under-nutrition among children and the availability of essential medicines.

According to UNICEF spokesperson Marixie Mercado, even before the floods, 38 per cent of Pakistani children under the age of five were moderately or severely malnourished. To date, over 83,000 children and pregnant or lactating women had received supplementary food rations or micronutrient supplements. In addition, over 25,000 women and children had been reached with basic but critical information on breastfeeding and safe water use, said Ms. Mercado.

UNICEF has also helped to reunite 263 children with their families and is working to assist the remaining 134 children who had been unaccompanied or separated from their families during the disaster. The agency has also helped to set up more than 200 temporary learning centres, reaching almost 21,000 children.

The World Food Programme (WFP) is taking a two-pronged approach to assist Pakistan, where it is continuing to distribute food aid to those affected by the flood as well as preparing for the upcoming winter.

The agency’s spokesperson, Emilia Casella, said the agency is already beginning to preposition food in some areas where it thinks people will remain cut off or be further cut off during the winter months. WFP is also working with its partners on agricultural recovery ahead of the planting season.

Agencies and their partners have received 67 per cent of the nearly $460 million sought as part of the initial Pakistan flood response plan to carry out the relief effort. A revised plan is expected to be launched on Friday in New York.

“There will be a further appeal that will be launched at the end of the week which will look both at the emergency situation and what more we need but also look at early recovery efforts in other parts of the country,” UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said yesterday in an interview with UN Television.

“In the north, where the waters are receding then it’s about helping people back to their homes, helping them rebuild their homes and restart economic activity. But for other parts of the country we are still in an emergency phase so there will be a revised appeal and we will be asking donors to dig deep.”

Ms. Amos, who visited some of the flood-affected areas last week, stressed the need to understand the magnitude of the crisis facing millions of Pakistanis.

“I think what we really got to do with Pakistan is get the world to understand that this is several disasters in one,” she stated. “As the flood waters have moved from the north to the south, we are seeing the equivalent of a new disaster every two to three days.”

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