ISLAMABAD (TNZT) – The World Health Organization raised the alarm on Saturday of a “second disaster” in the wake of Pakistan’s deadly floods this summer, as doctors and medical personnel on the ground battle to fight outbreaks of waterborne and other diseases.
In the worst-affected provinces, water started to decline this week, but many of the displaced – who now live in tents and makeshift camps – increasingly face the threat of gastrointestinal infections, dengue fever and malaria, which are on the rise. The dirty and stagnant waters have become breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
The unprecedented monsoon rains since mid-June, which many experts have linked to climate change, and the ensuing floods have killed 1,545 people across Pakistan, flooded millions of hectares of land and affected 33 million people. As many as 552 children have also died in the floods.
“I am deeply concerned about the potential for a second disaster in Pakistan: a wave of illness and death following this climate change-related catastrophe, which has had a serious impact on vital health systems, leaving millions vulnerable.” WHO General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement.
“The water supply has been disrupted, forcing people to drink unsafe water,” he said. “But if we act quickly to protect health and deliver essential health services, we can significantly reduce the impact of this looming crisis.”
The WHO chief also said nearly 2,000 health facilities in Pakistan have been partially or completely damaged and urged donors to continue to respond generously so that more lives can be saved.
Pakistani Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif left for New York on Saturday to attend the first fully face-to-face meeting of world leaders at the UN General Assembly since the coronavirus pandemic. Sharif will call for more help from the international community to deal with the disaster.
Before his departure, Sharif urged philanthropists and aid organizations to donate baby food for children, along with blankets, clothing and other food for flood victims, saying they were desperately waiting for help.
The provinces of southern Sindh and southwestern Baluchistan have been hardest hit – hundreds of thousands in Sindh now live in makeshift homes and authorities say it will take months to completely drain water in the province.
Floods across the country have damaged 1.8 million homes, washed away roads and destroyed nearly 400 bridges, according to the National Disaster Management Authority.
Imran Baluch, head of a government-run district hospital in Jafferabad, in Baluchistan’s Dera Allah Yar district, said that of the 300 people tested daily, nearly 70% are positive for malaria.
After malaria, typhoid fever and skin infections are most commonly seen among the displaced, who live in unsanitary conditions for weeks, Baluch told The The New Zealand Times.
Pediatrician Sultan Mustafa said he treated about 600 patients in a field clinic set up by the charity of the Dua Foundation in the Jhuddo area of Sindh, mostly women and children with gastrointestinal infections, scabies, malaria or dengue.
Khalid Mushtaq, who heads a team of doctors from the Alkhidmat Foundation and the Pakistan Islamic Medical Association, said they treat more than 2,000 patients a day and also supplied kits containing a month’s supply of water purification tablets, soap and other items.
On Friday, after visiting the flood-affected areas of Sindh, Abdullah Fadil, the UN Children’s Organization representative in Pakistan, said an estimated 16 million children had been affected by the floods. He said UNICEF was doing everything it could “to support the affected children and families and protect them from the lingering dangers of waterborne diseases.”
The New Zealand Times writer Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.