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Safe water saves lives. A call for urgent action

WHO Pakistan press release

16 OCTOBER 2005 | PAKISTAN -- The lack of safe drinking water has become a major health risk for the earthquake affected population. WHO is appealing to the international community for urgent provision of Safe Drinking Water. Hundreds of thousands of litres are needed for people’s survival, to reduce the risk of outbreaks, and for hygiene in health facilities where people who are already seriously injured are at risk of fatal infections and waterborne disease.

After the first wave of deaths due to collapsed buildings and landslides, WHO stresses on the need to accelerate the health response action so as to minimize deaths and disabilities resulting from delayed treatment. Patients are coming in with infected open fractures and gangrene. WHO warns that soon the lack of clean drinking water and sanitation facilities to the affected population will create major health threats, such as epidemics of diarrhoea, typhoid and other waterborne diseases that can only be prevented by providing sufficient quantities of safe drinking water.

The number of injured people – now estimated at 60,000, the massive destruction of major towns and entire villages, the extremely difficult mountainous terrain, the worsening weather and the enormous damage to roads, water and sanitation are compounding to make this the most difficult disaster to respond to in recent memory. The acute crisis, where thousands of people still need urgent medical attention, has continued for many more days than in other disasters.

The effects of the earthquake on the affected community are enormous. The cities of Bagh, Rawalakot, Muzaffarabad and Balakot have suffered massive destruction. Some villages were completely wiped out. It is still not clear what the impact of the disaster is in inaccessible areas such as Neelum Valley (north of Muzaffarabad). The lack of basic necessities such as water, food, and shelter (tents and blankets) are affecting communities as well as health workers in the field. The previously existing health system has ceased to function, as many health facilities have been destroyed or damaged, and health staff are either highly traumatized, injured, deceased or occupied taking care of their family members. Lack of clean water supply is also seriously hampering the provision of health services to affected populations.

The Ministry of Health and other government departments have mounted a huge health emergency operation. Medical and surgical field teams report thousands of patients treated per day. The large number of injured is overwhelming the current capacity and is still not sufficient to meet the existing needs. Many injured may not be treated on time, resulting in unnecessary deaths and incapacity.

The Pakistan Institute for Medical Sciences (PIMS) is receiving thousands of patients daily and is sending patients, once stabilized, to other public hospitals around the country in order to admit the seriously injured in remote areas. The hospital has put up tents in the hospital grounds for families of patients.

WHO stresses the importance of clean drinking water for the affected population and all health facilities to prevent the outbreak of diseases.

For more information contact:

Health Emergency Operation Centre
WHO Pakistan
Pakistan Institute for Medical Sciences
Telephone: +92 51 – 250 5175 / 926 3240
Fax: +92 51 – 926 3235