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Pakistani Officials Fear Cholera Outbreak After Massive Flooding

After floods in northwest Pakistan have “already killed up to 1,200 people” and forced 2 million from their homes, authorities are now concerned about disease spread, the Associated Press reports. “To avert the looming threat of spread of waterborne diseases, especially cholera, we have dispatched dozens of mobile medical teams in the affected districts,” said medical official Sohail Altaf. Altaf said no concrete cases of cholera have been reported in the country but “fear of an outbreak is high,” and patients with “stomach problems from dirty water” are being seen in medical camps (Brummitt, 8/2).  

AlJazeera.net reports that Save the Children doctors in the area have treated “over 600 people in the last two days and they are seeing a lot of cases of diarrhoea, fever and skin infections,” according to Sonia Cush, the group’s director of emergency response (8/1). Officials warn that “a lack of drinking water” is spreading disease, according to Agence France-Presse/News24, in an article that quotes another health official, Syed Zahir Ali Shah, who said, “We estimate that about 100,000 people, mostly children, have been hit by cholera and gastro diseases” in the region (8/2).

An aerial survey of the one of the worst-affected provinces “showed dozens of villages had simply been washed away,” the BBC reports(8/2). “The United Nations and the United States announced Saturday that they would provide $10 million dollars each in emergency assistance. The U.S. has also provided rescue boats, water filtration units, prefabricated steel bridges and thousands of packaged meals that Pakistani soldiers tossed from helicopters as flood victims scrambled to catch them,” the AP continues.

“The [Pakistani] government says it has deployed thousands of rescue workers who have so far saved an estimated 28,000 people and distributed basic food items,” according to the AP. The army has also sent 30,000 troops and “dozens of helicopters, but the scale of the disaster is so vast that many residents said it seems like officials are doing nothing. Thousands more people in the province remain trapped by the floodwaters” (8/2). BBC reports that the army predicts the “initial search and rescue operation will take up to 10 days” and rebuilding could take 6 months or more.

BBC also reports that rescuers are “struggling to reach 27,000 people still stranded” by the floods (8/2). “Part of the main north-south motorway into the [affected] region was reopened Sunday,” allowing aid supplies in and prompting people to flee the area, “before reportedly closing again.” In an IRIN article, a U.N. official estimates that 50 bridges have been swept away in the country (8/1).

Several hundred people protested the “government’s response” to the disaster in the north-western city of Peshawar, “where homeless survivors crammed into temporary shelters overnight,” the BBC adds (8/2). Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari “faced criticism for proceeding with a trip to Europe” (Shakir/Sharif, 8/2).

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.