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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Health risks in flood-hit Pakistan still a major concern, say UN agencies

14 September 2010 – Health risks remain a major concern in flood-hit Pakistan, where large swathes of territory remain under water one month after the disaster struck and hundreds of thousands of people have yet to receive humanitarian assistance, the United Nations reported today.

“The situation on the ground remains critical,” Elisabeth Byrs of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) told journalists in Geneva, noting that large parts of the province of Sindh are still under water following the floods which began in late July.

In neighbouring Balochistan, authorities in the Nasirabad division estimate that there are currently 400,000 flood-displaced persons in the area, approximately half of whom are from Sindh.

It is believed that nearly 40 per cent of the displaced population in the division has yet to be reached with humanitarian assistance, said Ms. Byrs.

Meanwhile, while the flood waters continue to recede in parts of Punjab province, pools of stagnant water remain and are posing major health risks, she added.

Paul Garwood of the World Health Organization (WHO) said that disease is a major concern, particularly for water- and vector-borne diseases in flood-affected districts, especially in Sindh and Punjab.

The agency has so far distributed enough medicine to treat more than 4 million people, while treatment has been provided for 5.3 million people since the end of July for ailments such as acute diarrhoea, acute respiratory infections, skin diseases and suspected malaria.

Across the country, some 1,200 mobile health facilities are providing treatment in addition to around 900 fixed health facilities. At the same time, the needs remain immense, said Mr. Garwood.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and partners currently provide more than 2.5 million people with clean water everyday. The agency is also supporting local health authorities in chlorinating and testing water sources in the flood-affected areas.

Major concerns among relief agencies also include food, shelter, water and sanitation, as well as under-nutrition among children and the availability of essential medicines.

According to UNICEF spokesperson Marixie Mercado, even before the floods, 38 per cent of Pakistani children under the age of five were moderately or severely malnourished. To date, over 83,000 children and pregnant or lactating women had received supplementary food rations or micronutrient supplements. In addition, over 25,000 women and children had been reached with basic but critical information on breastfeeding and safe water use, said Ms. Mercado.

UNICEF has also helped to reunite 263 children with their families and is working to assist the remaining 134 children who had been unaccompanied or separated from their families during the disaster. The agency has also helped to set up more than 200 temporary learning centres, reaching almost 21,000 children.

The World Food Programme (WFP) is taking a two-pronged approach to assist Pakistan, where it is continuing to distribute food aid to those affected by the flood as well as preparing for the upcoming winter.

The agency’s spokesperson, Emilia Casella, said the agency is already beginning to preposition food in some areas where it thinks people will remain cut off or be further cut off during the winter months. WFP is also working with its partners on agricultural recovery ahead of the planting season.

Agencies and their partners have received 67 per cent of the nearly $460 million sought as part of the initial Pakistan flood response plan to carry out the relief effort. A revised plan is expected to be launched on Friday in New York.

UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos last week pleaded for more help for Pakistan’s flood survivors and cautioned that international attention on the disaster is dwindling even before the millions of people affected have received adequate relief and others are awaiting assistance to rebuild their lives.

“The world’s attention is waning at a time when some of the biggest challenges for the relief effort here are still to come,” she said after wrapping up a visit to the flood-affected areas.

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