Majda Shabbir, IFRC Islamabad
Water extends as far as the eye can see in southern Pakistan following some of the worst floods on record. But for the 690,000 people who have fled to relief camps, and those who have taken refuge on higher ground by road sides, it is access to water that is their primary need – access to clean drinking water.
Amid the stagnant flood water, the tops of hand pumps can still be seen. Once the source of clean drinking water for these communities, they now only pump contaminated water bringing sickness and disease.
Poor drainage systems in the flooded areas have turned them into breading grounds for waterborne diseases, with looming threats of malaria, diarrhea, cholera and skin infections. Animal waste and the bodies of dead animals in the floodwaters increase the threat.
The Pakistan Red Crescent Society (PRCS) quickly assessed the need for clean drinking water in the Sindh province’s most affected districts, deploying volunteers trained in operating water treatment plants. The staff and volunteers chose sites where they could pump up the accumulated water and turn it into safe drinkable water.
They have so far reached over 127,000 people with 638,700 litres of safe drinking water through three water treatment plants in the districts of Badin, Mirpurkhas and Benazirabad. Moreover, over 39,000 water purification tablets or sachets have been distributed to more than 6,200 people.
“It’s a great achievement that PRCS is now setting up water treatment plants themselves,” says Kathryn Clarkson, the Asia Pacific Zone water and sanitation coordinator for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. “They had received the training two years ago and this is the third time they have set up the plants independently during an emergency.”
Ramji and his wife Reshma have travelled three kilometres to collect water from one of the PRCS water distribution points. He appreciates this initiative as it has saved them from falling prey to stomach infections. “The water near our area is contaminated and full of germs. We can’t afford to drink it so it is better to travel all the way here. At least we can ensure that the water here is safe,” he says, adding that with the flood water not draining away, the water treatment plant should be continued for another two months.
PRCS is in the process of setting up two more plants at new locations closer to the displaced populations in Badin and Benazirabad, while a third new plant will expand the production capacity in Mirpurkhas. Also, if more water tankers are made available in the operational areas, it will allow clean water to be distributed at more strategic distribution points and to a much wider vulnerable population than just through a limited number of tap stands at the production site.
It costs around 11,000 Swiss francs to run each water treatment plant for a month. Each plant produces 3,000 litres an hour or 30,000 litres in a day. More than 9,000 people are being helped by the three plants already operating.
“It is important that we act quickly to reduce the immediate threat people face in these camps, providing clean water and sanitation facilities. To do this we need more support from donors,” says Clarkson. “Quick action now will also go a long way to putting these people in a position where they can start to plan their own recover.”