(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Outbreak of water-borne diseases in Sindh

An outbreak of water-borne diseases has been reported in central areas of Pakistan's southern province of Sindh caused by polluted domestic water supplies. Over 1,100 people with diarrhoea and other related problems have attended public health facilities in the last two weeks, a health official told IRIN.

"At present, some 300, mostly children, are admitted in various hospitals, while others were discharged after treatment," Dr Masood Solangi, deputy director of the provincial health department, told IRIN from Hyderabad on Wednesday. "But the main cause, the polluted water supply, is outside the mandate of our health department. So other responsible bodies related to water supply should take counter-measures to contain the situation," said Dr Solangi.

High summer temperatures in Sindh mean diarrhoea and related conditions are common. In 2004, over 30 people, most of them children, were killed by polluted water in Hyderabad, Pakistan's second largest city after Karachi.

"Generally, potable water is scarce in Sindh and the scarcity takes a more critical turn in summer when the demand increases since the flow of fresh water decreases in rivers and lakes. Instead, the quantity of saline and toxic water from drainage canals falling into potable water sources grows, which consequently creates problems," Dr Ghulam Nabi Kazi, head of the provincial branch of the World Health Organisation (WHO) said from Karachi.

The situation has become critical because of the continuous drought of previous years, he said.

"We've conducted laboratory tests of water samples from almost every area and the findings suggest that contaminated water is being supplied that is not suitable for household consumption. In several areas, raw sewage and drinking water are mixed," Solangi explained.

Health authorities have started a health awareness campaign across the province using the electronic and print media to encourage the use of boiled water for drinking and cooking purposes.

"We've despatched mobile teams into rural and urban areas to educate people about basic hygiene," Solangi said.

The WHO official endorsed the public health campaign saying: "At the moment, it's the only way out. Simply through promoting use of boiled water about eighty percent cases of seasonal diseases could be avoided."

Meanwhile, another health crisis is looming in Hyderabad, the scene of last year's tragedy. Local authorities have said a local toxic lake, Manchhar, is almost overflowing and that they need to release polluted water into the river Indus. The river is the main source of drinking water for many parts of the city. A similar move last year caused the death of about 30 people, again, mostly children.

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