Reports indicate that recent flooding in Pakistan has affected the lives of at least 15.4 million people and left a third of the nation – including approximately 7.9 million acres of cultivated land – under water. At least 900,000 homes have been destroyed by surges of water, and a reported six million people do not have access to food, shelter, and potable water. In addition, the United Nations indicates that 1,600 have died and more lives are at risk as the threat of water-borne illness continues to rise.
Floods began in late July following a period of particularly heavy monsoon rains and have continued through August. Many have sought shelter in camps established by aid organizations, but public health experts warn that the crowding associated with displaced persons camps could exacerbate the spread of disease. Scabies, a skin infection caused by mites that burrow and cause pimple-like irritation, is becoming increasingly common in the camps. According to some reports, tens of thousands of infected individuals are among the 600,000 people in relief camps set up in Sindh province. In these tented camps which have been established in army compounds, schools, and public buildings, healthcare providers are struggling to contain outbreaks of acute diarrhea, the precursor to fatal cholera.
According to Mark Ward, acting director of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s office for foreign disaster assistance, “When you are dealing with this much water and that many people it [cholera] is almost unavoidable.” In addition, the World Health Organization (WHO) has reported 204,000 cases of acute diarrhea, 263,300 cases of skin diseases, and 204,600 cases of acute respiratory diseases in flood-affected regions. Thousands of cases of suspected malaria have also been documented and the conditions for mosquito-borne as well as water-borne illness are present.
The delivery of treatment for these fast-spreading communicable diseases has been compounded by the lack of adequate clinical facilities. Reports indicate that 200 health facilities were damaged or destroyed. Vaccination programs have been established in Charsadda and Peshawar regions and more than 100,000 children have received polio shots. Despite these efforts, millions, including 3.5 million children are at risk of contracting disease, and require water, shelter, or emergency care. Radio and text messaging campaigns have also been put in place to distribute information about the importance of hand washing and good hygiene.
While funding for humanitarian aid has been limited to date, the UN and other international organizations continue their efforts to garner support. Assuring that food, water, shelter, and medical treatment are available for those who need them is the primary concern of aid organizations currently working in Pakistan. By delivering effective medical treatment in a timely fashion while also working to prevent the spread of diseases, outbreaks can be contained.
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