Explore the past, present, and future of emergency aid in our Rethinking Humanitarianism series

Epidemics feared following heavy rains

The southern province of Sindh is already reeling from the crippling effects of the heaviest rains in a decade, with thousands of people still reported stranded in flood-hit areas, and a death toll of over 100. Now the region is facing outbreaks of disease, already reported to be on the rise amid fears that they could eventually reach epidemic proportions, officials said on Thursday.

Thousands of people have already been treated for illnesses ranging from eye and skin infections to diarrhoea and malaria in Badin, 350 km northeast of Karachi, the provincial capital. "Since last Sunday, we have treated almost 30,000 people for various illnesses at camps set up in Badin city, as well as in areas outside it," Dr Mohammed Ali, the deputy district officer for Badin, told IRIN.

Badin is one of the districts worst hit by the devastating spell of rain, which led to a canal being breached by floodwaters. There was also a likelihood of illnesses such as typhoid and hepatitis breaking out, he said, adding that he did not rule out the possibility of diseases becoming epidemic despite a noticeable reduction in floodwater levels. "There are thousands of people who are marooned, who cannot receive medical aid; there are people who are huddled together in relief camps, which increases the chances of an epidemic breaking out," he warned. .

Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Jamali, who flew to Karachi on Wednesday to assess the situation for himself, was being shown around the province on Thursday as relief workers, in tandem with army personnel, struggled to provide a badly traumatised population with assistance and medical aid.

A doctor at Karachi’s Aga Khan Hospital said her department had seen the number of rain-related sickness complaints doubling since the rains began. "Diarrhoea is the most common complaint so far, but we’ve also treated some people with eye and skin infections caused by the stagnant water," Dr Marie Andrades of the Family Medicine Unit told IRIN. Cholera, typhoid and malaria were expected to show up as inevitable by-products of the floods, she said, adding that she believed an epidemic of some illness or the other was also a possibility.

Meanwhile, an Edhi Welfare Trust official, Faisal Edhi, told IRIN he believed that thousands had perished in the floods in the rural areas. "We think all those corpses were swept into the sea. We know there are still more bodies stuck under water in some places - but we can’t get them out, because the water is too deep," he said.

Relief workers were prioritising people who were still alive, giving them food and medical assistance, but had failed to reach four small towns with a combined population of nearly 10,000 people near the coastline which had been completely cut-off, he said. "We’ve had no communication with them for the past 10 days; they probably have no food and are dehydrated and dying," he added, describing earlier rescue operations where people stayed stuck on the roofs of their houses, sometimes for five days, surviving on just a few sips of water.

"I carried children down myself, small children who were running high fevers - you could tell just by touching them that they were sick. We helped people who were famished, they’d been without food for days," said Edhi, who used a lifeboat to ferry himself and his crew across the floodwaters when the crisis began so they could launch rescue operations.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

Share this article
Join the discussion

Support The New Humanitarian

Your support helps us deliver informative, accessible, independent journalism that you can trust and provides accountability to the millions of people affected by crises worldwide.