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At Least 3.5M Pakistanis Have No Access To Clean Water, Raising Risk For Waterborne Diseases

UNICEF estimates that about 3.5 million Pakistanis only have access to contaminated water, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said on Wednesday in a statement, Bloomberg Businessweek reports. Approximately 2.5 million flood survivors now have access clean water (Gale, 8/26).

“Since the onset of the floods in late July, UNICEF and its partners have been delivering clean water through tankering to 750,000 people, while an additional 1.8 million have been able to access clean water thanks to the rehabilitation of the water system – totaling over 2.5 million who now have access to clean water daily,” according to the OCHA press release. “This figure is 42% of the six million people to whom the humanitarian community initially aims to provide clean water,” the release adds, explaining that increasing levels of stagnant flood water is expanding the risk that waterborne diseases, especially diarrhea, will spread.

“Lack of clean water leads to poor sanitation. This awful combination puts people at greater risk for contracting disease,” said the WHO’s Paul Garwood. “Overall, 3.2 million people have received medical attention in the flooded areas since the onset of the floods, with 462,000 cases of diarrhea, 596,700 cases of skin diseases, 441,000 of acute respiratory infections. Malaria is also on the rise with almost 65,000 cases reported in southern areas, especially Baluchistan and Sindh, where water has been stagnating for weeks, thereby providing ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes,” the press release states (8/25).

U.S. Will Redirect $50M For Flood Relief, Shah Says

Also on Wednesday, during a trip to assess the flood damage in Pakistan, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah said that $50 million of the five-year $7.5 billion aid package for Pakistan will be redirected for flood relief, the Washington Post reports. “Shah said that ‘every part of the portfolio’ would have to be reexamined, although that can not begin until the floodwaters recede and needs can be assessed,” the newspaper writes.

“This might be an opportunity to build a health system that reaches more people,” Shah said of future reconstruction efforts. “Five or 10 years from now, Pakistan’s agricultural economy could be much better off because we used the opportunity” (Brulliard, 8/26). 

Shah also said Pakistan must be transparent in its spending of flood-relief funding in order to get more support from international donors, and that it was important for the Pakistani government to address the international community’s concerns about corruption and extremist groups, Asian News International reports (8/26).

Meanwhile, the Associated Press looks at the U.N. International Telecommunication Union’s (ITU) “unusual appeal for relief funds.” The group requested donations be sent “directly to a Pakistani or Swiss bank account … a sharp departure from U.N. protocol that has raised concerns in the international aid community as questions mount over rampant corruption in Pakistan, and whether it may be preventing the money from going where it’s needed most,” the AP writes.

“ITU’s request affects only a tiny fraction of the total aid for Pakistan. But it touches on corruption fears raised in particular by the United States, which has provided the largest portion of the $800 million pledged for Pakistan’s flood relief,” according to the news service.

Sanjay Acharya, a spokesperson for ITU, noted that the appeal was made at the request of the Pakistani government. “We cannot possibly say ‘No, we don’t trust you,'” Acharya said, adding that the Pakistani account is “their responsibility. We can’t monitor that” (Klapper, 8/25).

Floods Spread, Affecting Health Situation

In Pakistan, the floods have spread to the south of the country, “forcing the evacuation of tens of thousands,” the New York Times reports.

“The evacuations that began Thursday are likely to worsen the overcrowding in the refugee camps where flood victims have gathered across Pakistan. The aid organization Doctors Without Borders said it was planning to scale up its operations in the northern and southern parts of the country to curb the possible outbreak of waterborne diseases,” the newspaper writes. “Doctors Without Borders posted on its Web site a dispatch from one its workers that described increasingly dire health conditions at a camp of flood refugees … A lack of clean drinking water in the area was creating a raft of health issues in the town of Dera Murad Jamali, the organization said. The town’s normal population of 50,000 appeared to more than double, the group said, and protests were growing over inadequate food and aid” (Masood, 8/26).

In related news, CNN examines how the flood has affected Gilgit Town’s District Headquarters Hospital. The hospital “is the only tertiary-level maternity hospital in a region of 1.5 million people. It handles up to 20 deliveries a day normally, and almost all the high-risk cases in the region,” CNN notes.

Emma Varley, a Canadian medical anthropologist, describes the scene at the hospital when a woman was about to give birth: “Spatters of old and fresh blood could be seen all across the floor. Without electricity, the … one autoclave [sterilizer] was not operational and delivery instruments were being bathed in a small pan of Biodine [disinfectant],” she said. “The bathroom could not be used due to a lack of water, and the sheets on beds in the pre- and post-partum patient rooms were heavily stained. Nothing had been washed or changed in over a week” (Walker, 8/25). 

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