Millions hit by floods at risk from diseases

UN officials say cholera and a host of other potentially lethal diseases pose a serious threat to the six million people worst affected by the floods.

ISLAMABAD // UN officials said yesterday that cholera and a host of other potentially lethal waterborne and insect-spread diseases - including acute diarrhoea, dengue fever, malaria and typhoid - pose a serious threat to the six million people worst affected by the floods. Containing cholera outbreaks is considered a high priority after disasters such as flood. More than 36,000 suspected cases of acute diarrhoea, a condition often confused with cholera, have been reported.

President Asif Ali Zardari met with flood victims in the north west, and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was expected to arrive in the country yesterday. The UN World Food Programme (WFP) on Friday described the food situation in flooded areas as "critical". The WFP has so far delivered basic one-month food rations to nearly 430,000 people, but has received only US$37.5 million (Dh137.7m) of the $156.2m needed to meet its target of feeding two million people by next Friday, which it is unlikely to meet.

People in many flooded areas, notably in the western province of Balochistan, are yet to receive any relief goods because roads and bridges have been destroyed. Their plight is becoming increasingly desperate, with people fighting for limited supplies of food and clean water. Pakistani newspapers reported that starving people in Muzaffargarh, a central district flooded by both the Indus and Chenab rivers, had been attacking and robbing convoys of trucks on Friday. There have been numerous reports of refugees falling sick after eating tainted food rations.

The UN warned on Friday that the slow response of the international community to the emergency appeal for $459.7m to fund relief operations was on the verge of becoming a "serious problem". It has prioritised the provision of shelter, food, clean water and medicine. "Relief supplies must reach women, men and children as soon as possible, in order to avoid further death caused by waterborne disease and food shortages," said Martin Mogwanja, the UN humanitarian co-ordinator for Pakistan. "The death toll has so far been relatively low compared to other major natural disasters, and we want to keep it that way."

The UN has to date received $92.8m in donations and pledges for a further $32m. The combined total is the equivalent of 27 per cent of the money needed to meet the immediate needs of the Pakistanis targeted by the UN appeal. The UN spokesman Maurizio Giuliano said the UN was falling behind in a "race against time" to ensure that stocks of relief goods were available for delivery. "We certainly need more relief stocks than we have. If we don't get enough money, we will eventually run out," he said.

The Pakistani government's tally of the number of people affected by the floods, fed by monsoon storms in late July, rose by 400,000 to 14.5 million on Friday, as flood waters spread in the southern Sindh province. Yesterday, the prime minister put the total at 20 million. The government raised the confirmed number of deaths to nearly 1,400, while the UN puts the toll at about 1,600, a figure it released early last week.

The National Disaster Management Authority says water has inundated 150,000 square kilometres, destroyed or damaged some 724,000 homes, and washed away at least 577,000 hectares of crops. The World Bank on Friday valued the lost crops at $1 billion. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation said that in some areas all crops were destroyed. Waters from the initial flood spread to the north west of southern Sindh province yesterday, inundating the district of Jacobabad, where army helicopters were helping to evacuate stranded people. The flooding now threatens the neighbouring district of Jafferabad district of Balochistan.

A second wave of floods yesterday flowed safely through the key Guddu and Sukkur barrages, but renewed the agony of people in already flooded districts of Sindh along the Indus River. A third wave has emerged in the northern stretches of the Chenab River and is expected to reach Sindh next week. Thousands of people in Thatta, where the Indus River forms its delta and meets the Arabian Sea, have been evacuated.

The devastation has tracked the path of the Indus River and adjacent Chenab and Kabul tributaries through the west of Pakistan. Industrial centres in eastern and southern Pakistan, and the most productive farmland in central Punjab province, have escaped floods. However, Pakistani officials warned on Friday that fresh rains could trigger floods in areas spared so far. The Pakistan Meteorological Department has forecast rains across river catchment areas in northern Pakistan today.

Elsewhere in the south west, gunmen targeted non-ethnic Baluchis travelling on a bus and painting a house in two attacks, killing 16 people and wounding eight, police said. The attacks reflect ethnic tensions in Baluchistan province, where a nationalist movement led by armed ethnic Baluch groups has long sought greater provincial autonomy. @Email:thussain@thenational.ae * With additional reporting from the Associated Press

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