Flood relief and rehabilitation efforts have barely begun and Pakistan may have another catastrophe on its hands. Early reports from the World Health Organisation indicate that there are at least two children who have been tested for cholera while 44 people have died of gastroenteritis in the last three days. The UN fears that 3.5 million children will be affected by various waterborne diseases. It is possible that disease, if not immediately tackled by the government and international relief agencies, will end up killing more people than the floods. Right now, Unicef says that it is providing clean water to about one million people per day. Delivery of medicines, clean water and other essentials has been hampered by continuing rains and a shortage of helicopters. There have been some reports that aid workers had to use donkeys to get medicines into Swat. Thus, only a fraction of the flood-affected people are being helped, making it even more likely that disease will spread.
The Pakistan government needs to immediately ensure the supply of safe, clean drinking water to the 20 million flood-affected people in camps across the country. They also need to set up education programmes that would discourage children from using the same water for drinking and bathing. While it may prove impossible to prevent the outbreak of disease, it can be minimised by building enough camps and tents that overcrowding is not an issue. With so many people living in close proximity, disease will spread faster and may soon lead to an uncontrollable epidemic. Already, the UN is predicting that there will be 1.5 million cases of stomach disease, 350,000 cases of respiratory disease and 150,000 cases of measles in upcoming months. With cholera now added to that list, the world’s flood relief efforts will come to naught if disease control isn’t made a top priority.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 19th, 2010.