The World Health Organization sounded the alarm on Saturday of a “second disaster” in the wake of deadly floods in Pakistan this summer, as doctors and medical workers race on the ground to fight outbreaks of waterborne and other diseases.
Floodwaters began to recede this week in the worst-hit counties, but many of the displaced – now living in tents and makeshift camps – are increasingly at risk of developing gastrointestinal infections, dengue fever and malaria. Dirty and stagnant water has become a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
Unprecedented monsoon rains since mid-June, which many experts associate with climate change, Subsequent floods killed 1,545 people across Pakistan, flooded millions of acres of land and affected 33 million people. As many as 552 children were killed in the floods.
“I am deeply concerned about the potential for a second disaster in Pakistan: a wave of disease and death in the wake of this disaster, linked to climate change, which has severely affected vital health systems and left millions vulnerable,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. He said in a statement.
“The water supply has been disrupted, forcing people to drink unsafe water,” he said. “But if we move quickly to protect health and provide essential health services, we can significantly reduce the impact of this impending crisis.”
The WHO chief also said that nearly 2,000 health facilities have been completely or partially damaged in Pakistan and urged donors to continue responding generously so that more lives can be saved.
Pakistani Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif left for New York on Saturday to attend the first full in-person gathering of world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly since the coronavirus pandemic. Sharif will demand the international community to provide more assistance to confront the disaster.
Before his departure, Sharif urged philanthropists and aid agencies to donate baby food, as well as blankets, clothes and other food items to the flood victims, saying they are desperately waiting for help.
The southern and southwestern provinces of Sindh have been hardest hit – hundreds of thousands of people in Sindh are now living in temporary homes and authorities say it will take months for the province’s water to drain completely.
Nationwide, the floods destroyed 1.8 million homes, washed away roads and destroyed nearly 400 bridges, according to the National Disaster Management Authority.
Imran Baloch, chief of the government-run district hospital in Jaafarabad, in Balochistan’s Dera Allah Yar district, said that out of the 300 people tested daily, nearly 70% were found to have malaria.
After malaria, typhoid fever and skin infections are more common among the displaced, who live for weeks in unsanitary conditions, Baloch told The Associated Press.
Pediatrician Sultan Mustafa said he treated about 600 patients in a field clinic set up by the Doaa Charitable Foundation in the Jeddo district of Sindh, most of them women and children with gastrointestinal infections, scabies, malaria or dengue fever.
They treat more than 2,000 patients a day and also provide kits containing a monthly supply of water purification tablets, soap and other items, said Khalid Mushtaq, chief medical officer from the Pakistan Islamic Medical Services and Society.
On Friday, the representative of the United Nations Children’s Agency in Pakistan, Abdullah Fazel, said after visiting flood-affected areas in Sindh that an estimated 16 million children had been affected by the floods. He said UNICEF was doing its best to “support and protect affected children and families from the continuing dangers of water-borne diseases”.
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