Pakistan: Disease risks mount in flood stricken Sindh

Published: 6 October 2011 15:13 CET

By Rabia Ajaib in IFRC Islamabad

After unprecedented floods in Pakistan’s Sindh province, the Pakistan Red Crescent Society (PRCS), in partnership with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), has launched a 10 million Swiss franc appeal to support ongoing relief operations for the next four months.

The situation is serious for more than 8.9 million people who have been affected by the floods in Sindh. Homes have been destroyed, vast areas of farmland inundated, and important community facilities such as health clinics severely damaged.

Imam Din has walked four kilometres to collect clean drinking water from the Red Cross Red Crescent water treatment plant in Badin Village, southern Pakistan. Weighed down with jerrycans, it is not an easy journey. Roads are severely damaged and large parts of the surrounding countryside are covered in stagnant water following the worst flooding in the region’s history. However, Imam, who lost everything he owned in the floods, knows it is a journey he must make regularly if he is to keep his family safe from sickness and disease.

 “Many people in our village were starting to get sick because they were drinking dirty water from the pumps,” he says. “We don’t have proper shelter, we don’t have enough to eat, but at least now we have clean water to drink.”

Almost 665,000 people have taken refuge in relief camps; others live in make-shift camps on roadsides, surrounded by stagnant water, polluted with waste and decaying animals.

“The risk of disease outbreaks is increasing by the day,” says Dr Syed Jamal Shah, health coordinator with 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 proper sanitation facilities will have dire consequences if we don’t act, and act quickly.

“There is evidence of increasing diarrhoea, and skin and respiratory infections in some camps. Stagnant waters are a breeding ground for dengue and malaria carrying mosquitoes, posing a significant public health threat.”

The Pakistan Red Crescent Society (PRCS) has responded quickly to the disaster, drawing on existing supplies and its extensive volunteer base.

Seven water treatment plants have been established in Badin, Mirpurkhas, Khairpur and Benazirabad; some of the worst affected areas in Sindh Province. Each plant is producing 30,000 litres of water a day, which provides enough safe drinking water for more than 4,000 people. In total, these plants have so far produced over a million litres of water.

PRCS hygiene promotion staff have trained local volunteers in Mirpurkhas and Badin to help ensure displaced communities understand the importance of basic hygiene practises to reduce the risk of disease spreading, and mobile health units are also providing emergency health support to the affected populations. This includes medical consultations, free medicines, distribution of mosquito nets and psychosocial support. Routine immunization is also being provided to children and women of child bearing age.

However, these resources are not limitless. The IFRC is appealing for 10.6 million Swiss francs from governments and international organisations to help continue its relief effort in the worst affected areas of Sindh over the next four months. 

“We again need the international community to support an emergency appeal, and to support it quickly,” says Kanwar Waseem, secretary of the PRCS’s  Sindh provincial branch. “Aid delayed, is aid denied. Taking action now will greatly reduce the immediate threats that people are facing in relief camps and  will go a long way towards putting people in a position where they can take control of their recovery, and begin rebuilding their lives and livelihoods.”

For Abdul Sattar, who also collects his family’s water from the treatment plant at Badin Village, his needs are critical and immediate. “The floods have contaminated all our water sources,” he says. “We need clean water stop the spread of disease. It will keep us healthy. It will save our lives.”