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UN Steps Up Aid Efforts in Flood-Stricken Pakistan

  • Lisa Schlein

United Nations aid agencies are stepping up efforts to provide assistance to millions of flood victims in Pakistan as the crisis continues to unfold. The World Health Organization (WHO) is warning preventive measures must be taken to head off the outbreak of water-borne and communicable diseases.

Three weeks into the crisis, aid agencies are getting a better view of the extent of the damage caused by the monsoon rains.

In some areas the floodwaters are receding, revealing the utter destruction left behind. In other areas, U.N. agencies report the floodwaters continue to rise and continue to destroy homes, villages and crops.

An estimated 20 million people have been affected by the flooding and the U.N. says at least 8 million of them are in urgent need of shelter, food and medical care.

The World Health Organization is particularly concerned about the increased risk of outbreaks of water-borne and communicable diseases. It says unsafe drinking water, poor sanitation, food insecurity and overcrowding in bad conditions make people susceptible to getting ill.

Daniel Lopez Acuna, acting assistant director-general for Health Action in Crises at the World Health Organization, says says hundreds of thousands of cases of skin infections, acute watery diarrhea and respiratory tract infections have been detected.

He says diseases spread by insects and animals such as malaria and dengue, as well as vaccination preventable diseases, such as measles and polio also are of growing concern.

"The risks can be reduced substantially for many of these diseases by basic preventive measures," said Acuna. "Access to clean water, appropriate sanitation, hygiene and current food handling in a correct fashion as well as vaccination. It is also important to insure there is referral capacity for those with life-threatening emergency medical conditions."

Dr. Acuna says it is especially important to get help for those requiring obstetric care or people with chronic diseases in need of critical treatment.

He says women, children and the elderly are particularly vulnerable. He warns 3.5 million children are at high risk of contracting deadly water-borne diseases, such as dysentery, diarrhea and cholera.

He says a good surveillance system is in place, which allows WHO and its partners to monitor and detect potential outbreaks of diarrheal and other diseases.

The World Health Organization has appealed for more than $56 million to fund emergency health projects. So far, it only has received 20 percent of what it needs. The agency warns it needs more funds to avoid further deterioration of the public health sector.

It says there is an urgent need to restore more than 200 health facilities and hospitals, which were damaged or destroyed by the floods.

It says it plans to set up 15 diarrheal treatment centers and provide essential drugs and medicines to millions of people. It adds, providing this assistance does not come cheaply.

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