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Thousands left homeless in flood-stricken Sindh as situation improves

The southern province of Sindh is still reeling from the heaviest rainfall in almost a decade. Despite a death toll of 153, and hundreds of thousands left homeless or stranded, officials now say the situation is gradually taking a turn for the better.

"The situation is improving, even in Badin, which was the worst-hit district," the information adviser to the Sindh government, Salahuddin Haider, told IRIN from the port city of Karachi on Monday.

Nearly half a million people were displaced or stranded by flooding in Badin, about 350 km northeast of Karachi, with close to 900,000 affected throughout the province. An estimated 75,000 (17 percent) of the affected people in Badin were children under the age of five, who were said to be at great risk from the threat of diarrhoea and other diseases.

"At the moment, we are facing a logistical problem in transporting people back to their homes," Haider said, adding that trucks were being considered as an option following the immobilisation of boats because of the receding water. The water supply was also posing a problem due to contamination, and needed to be chlorinated to ensure that people did not contract waterborne diseases, he said.

"The government has taken all measures to ensure food rations and medicines are supplied to as many affected people as possible, but we are facing a problem with dead bodies - both human and animal - which are caught up in areas where the water level is still high enough to impede efforts for their removal," Haider noted, describing this as a big problem likely to prompt fears of an epidemic.

Meanwhile, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has moved swiftly into action, disbursing badly needed emergency supplies such as oral rehydration salts and water purification tablets in four of the worst-affected districts, according to a press statement on Monday. Agency officials said women and children would require support for many weeks to come.

"We are still trying to assess the situation fully, but the bigger problem right now seems to be the question of safe water - they don't have enough right now. That's why we've provided them with jerry cans, along with the salts and the water purification tablets, so they have something to store it in," UNICEF's acting representative for Pakistan, Serap Maktav, told IRIN in the capital, Islamabad.

Given the uncertain quality of the available drinking water, Maktav feared that waterborne diseases were likely to become a problem, with malaria, cholera and snakebite as additional health concerns. "The bigger issue is how to cope with them," Maktav said, adding that preventing the illnesses was difficult because of the scale of the carnage wrought by floodwaters across vast tracts of land.

According to the UNICEF, some 170,000 people are currently housed in 91 relief camps established in schools and health units. Another 100,000 people are expected to move to these sites as the floodwaters subside, with the new school term delayed because most schools in Sindh are being used as temporary relief camps.

Food was another issue, with tens of thousands of people having existed on a few mouthfuls for several days as relief workers strove to reach them, said Haider. "We have three Pakistani army helicopters flying seven to eight sorties every day, carrying food for people where land routes make it impossible for vehicles to pass," he said.

The World Food Programme (WFP) country representative, German Valdivia, told IRIN that his organisation had prepared an emergency plan to help affected families in the flood-hit areas. "Following a preliminary report, we are arranging US $200,000 worth of food, which will be distributed to over 200,000 affected families," Valdivia said, adding that the WFP was working on a second report in consultation with the provincial government. "Once that is done, we shall be in a position to provide even more assistance," he added.

The Sindh government declared an emergency in Sindh last week, after heavy monsoon rains had continued unabated for almost a week. The rains came after almost eight years of drought, which left many people extremely poor.

Although the official death toll hovers just over the 150 mark, many others, especially relief organisations, fear it could be much higher. An official working with Pakistan's largest relief NGO, the Edhi trust, told IRIN last week that he believed hundreds of bodies may have been washed away into the sea by strong currents, following the floods.

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:

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