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Pakistan floods, one of the world's worst

Lahore resident Jamila Hasan and her disabled daughter negotiate their way across a flooded street Tariq Saeed/IRIN
Lahore resident Jamila Hasan and her disabled daughter negotiate their way across a flooded street
The floods in Pakistan, which have killed at least 1,200 people so far, are already the world's second worst in the decade from 2001 to August 2010, according to the Belgium-based Centre for Research on Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED).

"The numbers of people killed are very high for a natural event [like a flood], which is among the easier disasters to predict and plan for," said CRED director Debarati Guha-Sapir. CRED looks at how disasters affect human health and collaborates with World Health Organization (WHO).

The world's worst floods in terms of fatalities occurred in 2004 in Haiti, a Caribbean island country prone to natural hazards, where two weeks of heavy rains swelled rivers in the southeast along the border with the Dominican Republic, generating floods that killed more than 2,500 people.

Monsoon rains in India in 2005 caused 1,200 flood deaths, placing this disaster in second place beside the current floods in Pakistan. The monsoon rains in the region  usually continue into September and aid workers fear the number of lives lost to floodwater could rise. One-third of Pakistan - an area the size of England - is under water.

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Seven  of the 11 worst floods in CRED's list for the decade 2000-2009 have taken place in India. Guha-Sapir said countries like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh would feature high on a list with numbers of people affected by floods because of the high concentration of poor rural people living along river banks.

"Asian countries need to devote more attention to improve the lives of their rural populations. Putting together an early warning flood warning system is not rocket science; it is very easy," she told IRIN.

"Poor communities in Vietnam, Bangladesh, and even Mozambique have put together simple radio-based early warning systems, which help people to be evacuated in time."

Mozambique - which lost 800 lives in 2000 - set up a community-based early warning system that has become a model for other similar systems, and has dramatically reduced the number of casualties in the annual flood season of this southern African country.

Guha-Sapir said aid workers in Pakistan should plan and prepare for respiratory illnesses, particularly among children, and watch for a rise in malnutrition four or five months after the floods had subsided.

"Chances of waterborne diseases such as cholera being an immediate threat are low when there is fast-moving water involved, while dampness and humid conditions could lead to severe respiratory illnesses, particularly among malnourished children."

She has focused on analyzing how disasters affect health, particularly in children. "Often, when emergency food aid ceases in such conditions, malnutrition sets in four or five months after the event," she said, and suggested that aid agencies keep track of a group of children affected by the floods to get a sense of nutrition levels.

Here is CRED's list of the world's worst floods in the past decade:

The world's worst floods in terms of fatalities for 2000-2009
Year Country Reason Number killed
2004    Haiti Heavy rain 2665
2005   India Monsoon rains 1200
2007   Bangladesh Monsoon rains 1110
2007   India Monsoon rains 1103
2008   India Monsoon rains 1063
2009   India Monsoon rains   992
2001   Algeria Heavy rain   921
2004   India Monsoon rains   900
2000   India Monsoon rains   884
2000   India Monsoon rains   867
2000   Mozambique Heavy rain   800
Source: EM-DAT: The OFDA/CRED International Disaster Database www.emdat.be - Université Catholique de Louvain - Brussels - Belgium"

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