Pakistan: displacement puts thousands at risk of diseases
10 SEPTEMBER 2008 | PESHAWAR -- Thousands of Pakistan's most vulnerable people are on the move in the country's northwest, seeking health and other humanitarian aid after being displaced by armed conflict and heavy flooding. WHO and its partners are supporting Pakistani authorities to help the 423 000 displaced people in need.
Violence in the region has forced some 123 000 to flee and take shelter in temporary camps or in the homes of friends and relatives. Many have taken advantage of a recently called ceasefire to mark the Islamic holy month of Ramadan and gone home. But authorities are preparing tent camps and other support in case the displaced return in the near future.
Another 200 000 in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province (NWFP), particularly Peshawar, were affected by the unusually heavy monsoon rains in August, as were 100 000 in the eastern Punjab province. Mud houses were washed away and clinics, bridges and other infrastructure destroyed. Many people urgently need aid, particularly the elderly, sick and disabled.
The large-scale displacement has increased the threat of communicable disease outbreaks, such as acute watery diarrhoea and measles. In response, WHO staff on the ground helped launch an early warning system throughout the region to monitor and react to suspect cases. Emergency medicines have also been supplied, safe water and sanitation equipment delivered and nutritional support provided to protect many of the displaced.
"Ensuring the quality of water and sanitation is one of the biggest problems for the displaced people," said Dr Zia ul-Haq of WHO's Peshawar sub-office. "We must ensure the safety of these, otherwise outbreaks of communicable diseases will be a major threat."
WHO staff, for example, are closely monitoring the situation in a camp for 1200 internally displaced people in the town of Sheikh Yassin in Mardan district, near Peshawar. Cases of acute watery diarrhoea have been reported there and WHO and its partners are delivering medicines and providing support for the treatment of people.
Other health threats include the start of the malaria season and the spread of measles, one of the major killers of children in vulnerable settings, due to low immunization coverage in some areas.
“Local and federal authorities have been providing health services and nutritional support to many of the affected people,” said Dr Khalif Bile, WHO’s Representative to Pakistan. “But the extent of the crisis means more aid is needed, including medicines, water and sanitation materials for 150 000 people. Restoring key services, like health, is vital.”
WHO and its partners have requested US$ 9.76 million to undertake life-saving health responses to this humanitarian crisis. "Thousands of lives are at risk in Pakistan if we do not act now to provide urgent health care to those affected by these terrible floods or forced from their homes by violence," said Dr Eric Laroche, Assistant Director-General for WHO's Health Action in Crises.
WHO and Pakistan's Ministry of Health are coordinating the activities of various agencies who are part of the "health cluster" to respond to the emergency needs of people. These agencies are supporting health services in the seven districts hosting the displaced.
Dr Saeed Akbar, WHO coordinator for NWFP, said the cluster approach has succeeded in coordinating the efforts of multiple agencies. "The health cluster is performing well in this crisis," he said. "It has enabled WHO, Pakistani authorities and our many health partners to coordinate our health services, identify gaps and provide medicines and services when and where they are needed."
- Health response launched for the displaced in Pakistan
- Health Action in Crises
- More information on Pakistan
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