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Second wave of deaths feared

While flood victims are surrounded by water, there is very little that is safe enough to drink
While flood victims are surrounded by water, there is very little that is safe enough to drink (Abdul Majeed Goraya/IRIN)

In the flood-hit town of Nowshera, near Peshawar in Kyhber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Province, children squat next to a roadside puddle to scoop and sip the murky water.

“We know it’s not clean, but there is no other water available. Even taps are not working,” teenager Hashim Khan told IRIN.

The lack of clean drinking water has long been a problem in parts of the country. A 2007 World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) report, Pakistan’s Waters at Risk, says 250,000 children die every year from drinking contaminated water.

The floods, which the government says have affected 14 million people and killed 1,600, most of them in KP, have drastically worsened the situation. Wells, streams and springs have been contaminated, as has ground water. People are forced to drink from stagnant pools, contaminated by human waste and dead animals.

Aid workers are warning of illness and deaths from water-borne diseases, which are expected to increase rapidly.

“There could be a second wave of deaths due to water-borne diseases if we don’t act fast enough to provide safe drinking water,” Maurizio Giuliano, spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Pakistan, told IRIN. He said over one million people were in need of clean water and 430,000 water purification tablets had been distributed so far.

Nazahat Nigar, a private doctor in Lahore, told IRIN by phone: “Flood waters cause the sewage, industrial waste, cattle and human excrement to mix with clean water. There is a danger of the spread of cholera, hepatitis, typhoid, skin diseases and allergies in the flood-affected areas, and malaria may also hit flood victims. The deaths caused by these diseases will outnumber the deaths caused by flooding, I fear.”

Acute diarrhoea

According to a 9 August bulletin prepared by the World Health Organization (WHO) between 31 July and 8 August, the most commonly reported diseases were scabies, respiratory tract infections and acute diarrhoea (AD).

The bulletin said 20,399 cases of AD had been reported in KP; 9,659 in Punjab Province; and 1,519 in Sindh Province.

Skin infections accounted for 16 percent of patients, AD 15 percent and acute respiratory infections 14 percent. Nineteen health centres had been damaged or destroyed in Balochistan Province; 30 in Punjab Province, and 47 in KP.

Transport problems

The distribution of any aid is very difficult, with many bridges destroyed.

“We have helicopters but they can operate only in fair weather… They drop supplies at approximate locations and there is always the chance they will not reach the victims,” Ahmad Kamal, spokesperson for the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), told IRIN.

He said large supplies of potable water and more boats to transport them were urgently needed. NDMA has set up a number of distribution points for water and medicine.

“The lack of clean water is an immense problem. We are using vehicles and then boats to try and get it to people in Sindh and using local sources of clean water when available,” Badr Uddin of Edhi Foundation, Pakistan’s biggest charity, told IRIN from Karachi.

But in Nowshera, Sukkur, Dera Ghazi Khan and other flood-affected towns, victims say they are not receiving enough. “Children are thirsty. How can we prevent them from drinking what water they can find?” asked Shabbir Jan, 45, a resident of Nowshera.


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

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