By Joe Cropp in Sindh Province, Pakistan
Rehanna stands waste deep in the flood water, filling a bucket from the half-submerged hand pump. Her two daughters stand by her side, holding onto her sari in the stagnant water.
The young mother doesn’t realise the dangers the polluted pump water can carry – diarrhoea, hepatitis A, cholera. Even if she did, her family needs water, and there are no reliable options in the road-side camp where she has spent the past three weeks.
Rehanna fled to the relatively high ground of the road when the flood water destroyed her home. Its ruins can be seen a short distance away, protruding from the water, a daily reminder of what she has lost. The few possessions she has been able to salvage – a couple of beds, and some pots and pans – sit under one of the ubiquitous blue tarpaulins that line the dirt strip of road, now home to dozens of other families whose homes also lie half-submerged nearby.
It is a situation repeated throughout Sindh in southern Pakistan. More than nine million people have been affected by the floods that followed record monsoon rains. They have lost their homes, farms and belongings. Almost 670,000 people have fled to the relative safety of relief camps. Thousands more like Rehanna are camped out on road-sides, facing the risk of deadly diseases from the water that surrounds them.
Stagnant water makes a perfect breeding ground for dengue and malaria carrying mosquitoes, so it’s no surprise that reported cases are on the rise. Traditional sources of clean drinking water have become contaminated with human waste due to the lack of sanitation facilities, increasing the chances of diarrhoea, hepatitis A and cholera.
“The risks of outbreaks of diseases are increasing by the day, especially among women and children who are already weak and vulnerable,” says Dr Syed Jamal Shah, health coordinator for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). “Existing malnutrition in the region, poor living conditions in the camps, overcrowding in tents, and a lack of drinking water and sanitation facilities will have dire consequences if we don’t act now.
“Prevention costs are relatively small, but if diseases break out, the cramped conditions in these camps will mean they will spread very quickly, often with fatal consequences.”
To reduce the threat of disease, the Pakistan Red Crescent, with support of the IFRC, has deployed seven mobile water treatment plants in the worst affected areas of Sindh. These plants have already produced more than 3.4 million litres of water for flood affected communities.
One Pakistan Red Crescent team has set up a water treatment plant 20km north of Rehanna’s makeshift camp. The small trailer carrying purification equipment connected to large rubber storage bladders has been producing 30,000 litres of water a day, enough drinking water for about 4,000 people.
Many people walk up to 5km to collect clean water from the road side tap stands, making the return journey home carrying heavy jerrycans. With the addition of two water trucks, the plant will soon be able to extend its range to about 15km, providing water to dozens more communities. However, it may not be far enough for Rehanna.
“Flood effected communities in Sindh desperately need clean water and sanitation facilities, but the resources currently available only cover a fraction of what is required,” says Marga Ledo Souto, IFRC flood operations manager.
“We need to do more to help these communities,” she says. “But we cannot do it alone. We need the support of our donors and partners if we are to tackle the immediate threats these communities face.”
See Joe Cropp’s blog posts from Pakistan at www.ourworld-yourmove.org.