Thursday December 01, 2022

Indescribable tragedy

September 05, 2022

A humanitarian crisis is developing in the flood-affected areas in Pakistan; heart-wrenching stories of destruction and survival are coming out every day. Millions of people need food, drinking water, medicines and tents to survive. The relevant authorities have not been able to reach out to tens of thousands of people stranded in inundated villages in Sindh and Balochistan.

Time is running out and quick and timely efforts are needed to save the flood victims from starvation and disease. Fears are growing that more people might lose their lives if we fail to control the spread of waterborne diseases – malaria, dengue, etc – and provide them food and shelter.

The outbreak of various diseases has already begun. The situation is grim in Sindh and Balochistan. Hundreds of thousands of flood-affected people in Sindh have fallen ill, fighting serious diseases like diarrhoea, gastro and malaria. Tens of thousands of children are suffering from diarrhoea.

A similar situation is developing in Balochistan, southern Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa KP. Health experts have warned that infectious and waterborne diseases – which are a result of lack of hygiene and highly contaminated stagnant water – could kill more people than the floods. We need mobile hospitals, medicines, medical equipment and specialist doctors in flood-affected areas on an emergency basis to deal with the situation.

According to statistics released by the Punjab Health Department, over 140,000 flood affectees have been infected with various diseases in southern Punjab, out of which 37,000 are suffering from respiratory infections. The Punjab health department states that over 33,000 affectees are suffering from rashes and itching, while over 17,000 remain infected with diarrhoea and other waterborne diseases.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has already declared these floods as the highest level of emergency. In a briefing, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, “under our internal grading system, WHO has classified the flooding in Pakistan as a grade 3 emergency, the highest level, which means all 3 levels of the organization are involved in the response: the country and regional offices, and headquarters.”

Dr Tedros said that “three-fourths of Pakistan’s districts and 33 million people have been affected, with six plus million in dire need of humanitarian aid. Damage to health infrastructure, shortages of doctors and limited health supplies are disrupting health services, leaving children, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers at increased risk.”

The WHO DG added that Pakistan was already facing health threats including Covid-19, cholera, typhoid, measles, leishmaniasis, HIV and polio. “Now, the flooding has led to new outbreaks of diarrheal diseases, skin infections, respiratory tract infections, malaria, dengue, and more.”

We need to work on a war footing to provide much-needed relief to flood-affected people living in an extremely desperate situation. The governments, NGOs and the armed forces are trying their best to reach out to the affected people, but the magnitude and scale of devastation is so big that these efforts seem inadequate.

Our efforts are not yet matching the needs of the affected people who are facing a life-or-death situation. They are hungry and sick, and it is feared that children, pregnant women and the elderly will not be able to survive without food, medicines and shelter.

Every passing day will make the situation even worse. We need to act before it’s too late and save each and every life. We do not have much time left to start a massive relief campaign and try to reach out to every flood-affected person.

Our local administrations are neither well equipped nor dedicated to deal with the alarming situation of this magnitude. In many areas of Sindh, Balochistan, KP and southern Punjab, the response of the local administration and elected representatives is pathetic, callous and casual.

People in these areas are rightly showing their anger to the elected representatives. In many areas, people are complaining that local feudal lords flooded the villages to save their crops and land. The Sindh government should investigate such complaints and punish those who are responsible for such criminal acts.

The federal and provincial governments need to focus on relief work at this stage and on providing relief to the people in need. Our political leaderships and governments need to realize the dire situation they are dealing with; reconstruction and rehabilitation work will come later. The immediate goal is to save people from starvation and diseases.

It is understandable that the destruction of roads, bridges and other infrastructure has made relief efforts more difficult. At present, it is not easy to transport relief goods to the affected. The repair work and construction of some important bridges and roads need to be done on an emergency basis to reach out to affected people in remote areas.

This is an extraordinary situation and needs an extraordinary response. The death toll has crossed 1,200. More than 0.5 million houses have been completely destroyed while nearly 0.9 million partially damaged. One million animals have been killed so far. Crops on millions of acres have been destroyed. These are the worst floods in our recent history. The scale and magnitude of devastation is unprecedented and much bigger than the 2010 floods.

We cannot afford to fail the people in the flood-affected areas. They are calling us for help. We must not disappoint them.

The writer is a freelance journalist.