UNICEF warns against burst of water-borne diseases

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Millions sleep in temporary shelters

Zubair Qureshi
Islamabad

The United Nation’s Children humanitarian agency (UNICEF) has issued a fresh warning in the wake of floods, of a possible outbreak of diseases most common in children like diarrhea, typhoid and malaria in the flood-affected areas as millions are either sleeping in the open or in temporary shelter.

In a statement issued to the press on Wednesday, the UN Pakistan spokesperson said, “We are deeply worried about the very real possibility of a wave of death and disease which is already stretching its tentacles. A second disaster is looming in sight – health, nutrition and water, sanitation and hygiene is of critical concern.”

Outbreaks of watery diarrhea, typhoid and malaria are increasing rapidly as millions of people sleep in temporary shelters or in the open in close proximity to stagnating water. Over 134,000 cases of diarrhea and 44,000 cases of malaria were reported in the hardest hit area of Sindh just this past week. People are exposed to deadly diseases like dengue, diarrhea, malaria, gangrene and other skin issues, it said.

Right now, the data is not accurate because we still don’t have the complete picture. We only have parts of it – but it is alarming. We need to raise the alarm now and not wait for mortality figures. We can mitigate these numbers if we prioritize health, respond fast and in a coordinated manner, said the UN spokesperson in the statement. Children are particularly vulnerable as six more children died in Sindh on Wednesday while millions are still grappling to survive, and we fear thousands will not make it, the spokesperson said in a statement. The catastrophic floods uprooted more than 3.4 million children from their homes and claimed more than 550 children. The risks to children’s lives and survival are multiplying by the day. Many children have dengue, acute respiratory infections, painful skin infections and other ailments. At the health camps, we are now witnessing a rise in cases of children suffering from severe acute malnutrition. Children require psycho-social support and recreation to reduce the effects of flood trauma. It is just not about relief but recovery, we have to make sure that we see them through to wellness, it said. Basic survival is a challenge –food, drinking water, shelter, medical health, and fodder remain the need of the hour. If we leave them now, they will die.

Most of the food families had stored was washed away in the floods, the spokesperson said adding without food, many mothers have become anaemic and malnourished and have very low-weight babies. Many have difficulties breastfeeding, which is the safest form of nutrition for infants. The floods washed away more than 3.5 million acres of arable land. This will exacerbate food insecurity issues across the country. More than 50 per cent of the water supply systems were damaged in the floods. Families are surrounded by pools of stagnant water poisoned with fertilizers and faeces and swarming with diseases and viruses. An estimated 1.5 million people across four provinces need water sanitation and hygiene assistance. Press Recent surveys confirm that monsoon rains made worse by climate change led to flash floods in the mountainous parts of Pakistan, and widespread flooding in the plains, the spokesperson said adding the world needed to come together and work towards climate change mitigation, otherwise the helpless situation we find ourselves in will be repeated in other parts of the world as well.

 

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