UN warns of diseases in Pakistan floods
Up to 3.5 million children are at risk from waterborne diseases, and the country could face thousands of cholera cases.
Mon, Aug 16, 2010 at 09:34 AM
AT RISK: Pakistani women and children live in a camp because floods damaged their houses. It is estimated that up to 20 million people have been affected by the floods, and more than 750,000 houses have been damaged or destroyed. (Photo: ZUMA Press)
The United Nations warned Monday that up to 3.5 million children were at risk from waterborne diseases in Pakistan's floods and said it was bracing for thousands of potential cholera cases.
Fresh rains threaten further anguish for millions of people that have been affected by the country's worst floods for 80 years and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has urged the world to speed up international aid urgently.
Described as the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today, the three-week disaster has affected 20 million people, and has destroyed crops, infrastructure, towns and villages, according to the Pakistani government.
The United Nations has launched an aid appeal for $460 million, but charities say the response has been sluggish and flood survivors on the ground have lashed out against the weak civilian government for failing to help.
Maurizio Giuliano, spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, feared that Pakistan was on the brink of a "second wave of death" unless more donor funds materialized.
"Up to 3.5 million children are at high risk of deadly water-borne diseases, including diarrhoea-related, such as watery diarrhoea and dysentery," he said, estimating the total number at risk from such diseases at six million.
Typhoid, hepatitis A and E are also concerns, he said.
"WHO is preparing to assist up to 140,000 people in case there is any cholera, but the government has not notified us of any confirmed cases," the spokesman told AFP.
"We fear we're getting close to the start of seeing a second wave of death if not enough money comes through, due to water-borne diseases along with lack of clean water and food shortages," he said.
Cholera is endemic in Pakistan and the risk of outbreaks increases with flooding, but the government has so far confirmed no cases publicly.
One charity worker, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP that several flood survivors had already died of the disease.
The United Nations estimates that 1,600 people have died in the floods, while the government in Islamabad has confirmed 1,384 deaths.
The floods have sparked rage against the government in the nuclear-armed country on the frontline of the U.S.-led fight against Al-Qaeda, where the military is locked in battles with homegrown Taliban in the northwest.
Several hundred people on Monday blocked the main highway linking the breadbasket of Punjab province to the financial capital Karachi, calling for assistance and holding up traffic for more than an hour, witnesses said.
"We have no food and no shelter. We need immediate help," shouted the protesters, who included women and children.
Intermittent rain fell Monday, turning refugee camps into mud, keeping alive fears of further breaches in the Indus river and canals and hampering relief efforts, officials said.
Bibi Momal, 35, sat in dirty clothes and broken shoes on a roadside near the southern city of Sukkur waiting for relief, weak and exhausted.
"We have no tents. We spent the night in the rain. Our children are hungry and sick. We came here for relief but we got nothing."
In Punjab, evacuation orders were issued to residents of Fazilpur and waters also threatened the nearby town of Khangarh.
"Thousands are getting ready to leave," said Nasrullah Tareen, 30.
"People have taken shelter on high ground. Our major problem is safe drinking water. Water is rising everywhere but there is no drinking water."
The floods also threaten the ancient sites of Moenjodaro, on the UNESCO world heritage list, and Aamri, the head of Sindh antiquities said.
School vacations in parts of northwestern province Khyber Pakhtunkhwa could be extended for up to 25 days as about 3,000 schools are being used to shelter flood survivors, provincial education minister Sardar Hussain Babak told AFP.
At the weekend a shocked Ban became the first world leader to visit the flood-affected areas, saying he would never forget the "heart-wrenching" scenes of destruction and suffering that he had witnessed.
"I'm here to urge the world to step up their generous support for Pakistan," he told a news conference with Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari.
Ban said one-fifth of the country had been ravaged and officials warned that, in the long term, billions of dollars will be needed as villages, businesses, crops and infrastructure have been wiped out.
Copyright 2010 AFP Asian Edition