In Pakistan, fears of waterborne diseases as floods recede

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Islamabad (AP) — Officials in Pakistan expressed concern Wednesday about the spread of waterborne diseases among thousands of flood victims as waters from heavy monsoon rains began to recede in many parts of the country.

Massive flooding from rain since mid-June has killed at least 1,162 people, a phenomenon experts blame on climate change.

Some doctors said at first they mostly saw patients injured by the floods, but are now treating people suffering from diarrhoea, skin infections and other water-borne ailments in the flood-hit areas of the country.

The development forced the government to deploy additional medical teams and send medicine in addition to providing clean drinking water to survivors, many of whom are living in tents and makeshift homes.

The warning came a day after record-breaking flooding prompted the United Nations to formally appeal for $160 million in emergency funding to the impoverished Islamic nation, where about a million homes have been damaged or destroyed.

Dr. Azra Fazal Pechuho, health minister in the country’s worst-hit province, Sindh, said officials have set up 4,210 medical camps in the flood-hit areas of the province to treat victims now suffering from skin and water-borne diseases, which are common during floods.

The World Health Organization has begun assisting Pakistani authorities in their efforts to treat people injured by the rains and floods. The agency said in a statement that it is working to increase surveillance for acute diarrhea, cholera and other communicable diseases to prevent their further spread, while also providing drugs and medical supplies to health facilities.

“WHO is working with health authorities to respond quickly and effectively on the ground,” said Dr Palitha Mahipala, WHO representative in Pakistan. (to) strengthen and expand disease surveillance, prevention and control of epidemics and ensure strong coordination of health teams”.

Authorities said waterborne diseases among flood victims are now common across the country.

“Initially we received wounded, but now diarrhea is common,” said Farhad Khan, a doctor in charge of a medical camp set up in the northwestern city of Charsadda. It is one of the worst flood-hit areas in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province bordering Afghanistan, where floods have killed 257 people since mid-June.

The Pakistani authorities, with the support of the army, rescuers and volunteers, tried to evacuate the trapped people to safer places. On Wednesday, military helicopters continued to evacuate flood victims and deliver food to remote areas, according to a statement released by the military. It said it has deployed at least 6,500 troops to help with rescue and relief operations.

Rescuers were also using boats to evacuate those trapped in southern Sindh province and remote villages in eastern Punjab province, according to government officials.

Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif on a visit to the flood-hit Swat valley promised the rehabilitation of every person displaced by the floods. In his televised remarks, Shahbaz thanked UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for responding to Pakistan’s request and calling for emergency funding of $160 million to help flood victims. Guterres urged the world on Tuesday: “Let’s stop sleepwalking towards the destruction of our planet by climate change.”

Sharif’s visit comes days after the raging Swat river destroyed the iconic New Honeymoon Hotel in the northwestern tourist resort of Kalam. There were no casualties as tourists and staff left the hotel following government evacuation orders, and residents in Kalam said many roads there were still flooded.

Pakistan says it has received aid from some countries and others have also sent aid. According to initial government estimates, the disaster caused $10 billion in damage to the economy.

Kamran Bangash, a government spokesman in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, said that with evacuations complete, officials are now focusing on providing food and clean drinking water to flood victims.

“We fear an outbreak of waterborne disease in flood-affected areas,” he told The Associated Press. He said that hundreds of people have contracted such diseases in different parts of the province.

“In recent weeks the floods have seriously affected hundreds of thousands of people. We don’t want them to suffer again. this time due to non-availability of clean water and it is preventable,” Bangash said.

Although the rains stopped three days ago, large areas of the country remain under water, while the main rivers, the Indus and the Swat, are still swollen. The National Disaster Management Authority has warned emergency services to be on high alert, saying flood waters over the next 24 hours could cause further damage.

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