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    NewsAsiaRains plunge Pakistan into unprecedented humanitarian crisis

    Rains plunge Pakistan into unprecedented humanitarian crisis

    Homes submerged under water, bridges and roads destroyed, crops that were lost and more than 33 million people affected are just some of the consequences that heavy rains have left in a third of Pakistan’s territory. “The country is experiencing an unprecedented humanitarian crisis and the long-term consequences are yet to come,” laments Rocio Vicente, a UNICEF human rights specialist. In less than a month, the pace of life for the population of 66 of the 116 districts has turned 180 degrees. The Government has declared them in a “state of calamity”, while the World Health Organization (WHO) has announced that the affected areas are at the highest level of emergency.

    For Vicente, state intervention and the help of international organizations are not enough to cover the magnitude of the problems related to these floods. “Pakistan is the fifth most populous country in the world, with more than 220 million people, and right now we have half a million displaced people, without safe water and without medical assistance,” he relates. “30% of the water systems have been damaged, and this implies direct exposure to diseases that can be fatal,” he explains.

    A resident affected by monsoon rains in his makeshift tent in Charsadda district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, PakistanABDUL MAJEED (AFP)

    Ruby Taric, head of the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) team in Baluchistan, one of the provinces hardest hit by the disaster, says that the tasks of disease control, monitoring and prevention are a challenge. Before the floods, Pakistan already registered 4,531 cases of measles and 15 cases of wild poliovirus, now the WHO has warned of an increase in outbreaks of infections such as typhus, measles and dengue. “We have 2,000 beds, all occupied. In addition, we now work with fewer staff because five of them have tested positive for malaria, ”she relates. They have not yet recorded any cases of cholera, which is very common in this type of emergency, but they have detected a significant uptick in malaria.

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    According to data provided by Unicef, some 1,460 hospitals are out of operation, just when the danger of the proliferation of mosquitoes – the main transmitters of tropical diseases such as yellow fever, malaria and dengue -, snake bites, diseases skin and respiratory, due to humidity and the large amount of stagnant water.

    Caught in the middle of the catastrophe

    The lack of drinking water is one of the most important problems, according to MSF, faced by the population of the two hardest-hit provinces: Baluchistan and Sindh, in the south of the country. Such lack, says Taric, has increased cases of diarrhea.

    Nearly 3,000 kilometers of roads have also been blocked by debris and water, while 150 bridges have been destroyed, according to the latest reports issued by the Pakistani government. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has reported the difficulties experienced by aid and humanitarian assistance brigades in accessing the most affected regions. Although the floods have left a balance of 1,200 people dead and close to 6,000 injured to date, international organizations warn that the figure may be higher, since there are still areas to which they have not had access.

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    Residents of Charsadda district, northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, after a flash flood on August 28, 2022.
    Residents of Charsadda district, northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, after a flash flood on August 28, 2022. Zubair Abbasi (Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

    Taric, from Doctors Without Borders, assures that the most vulnerable people are children and pregnant women. “If it is already difficult to move in flooded areas full of debris, it is even more so for pregnant women,” she asserts. “Many of them have stopped attending their prenatal check-ups and see that their health has deteriorated not only due to exposure to an unhealthy environment, but also emotionally.” Taric refers to the uncertainty of not knowing where they will be cared for, and whether or not they will have a home to care for their children. “Depression and anxiety are part of their days since they have had to flee the flooded areas.” According to UNFPA, 73,000 of the 650,000 pregnant women in Pakistan are expected to give birth next month.

    Children are the most vulnerable

    In a country where 27 million people suffer from food insecurity, children are more disadvantaged: 40% of those under 12 years of age are stunted, one of the developmental problems related to malnutrition. Added to this is the loss of livelihoods and the emotional impact of fleeing their homes to settle in temporary shelters. According to data from Action Against Hunger, more than half of the 33 million people affected by the monsoon rains are children under 12 years of age.

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    A family wades through a flood-affected area in Charsadda district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on August 29, 2022.
    A family wades through a flood-affected area in Charsadda district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on August 29, 2022. ABDUL MAJEED (AFP)

    Before the floods, Pakistan already topped the list of Child Climate Risk countries, ranking 14th out of 163. Jennifer Ankrom, director of Action Against Hunger in Pakistan, warns that the situation has now become unsustainable. “The people of the communities maintained the cultivation of rice and wheat as a means of subsistence. When they did not have money, they exchanged it for other products. Now they have lost everything,” she comments. After the rains, 719,000 head of cattle have died, and more than two million hectares of crops and orchards have been submerged.

    Adding to the lack of food is the lack of safe water and adequate sanitation, as well as the destruction of sanitary facilities, the three factors that contribute to chronic malnutrition. Ankrom, from Action Against Hunger, warns of its consequences: “It hits the immune system of the little ones and deteriorates the cognitive system, affecting not only their health but also their performance. Without quick intervention, they are doomed. Without water and without food they are easy prey for opportunistic diseases.”

    Despite the humanitarian assistance work, the UN calculates that the investment needed to cover the needs of this natural disaster exceeds 160 million euros. The Pakistani government raises that amount. Experts agree that the social consequences of the disaster are just beginning to be seen.

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    Source: EL PAIS


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