ISLAMABAD/KARACHI, 9 AUGUST 2003 - Over a million people in Sindh and the neighboring Provinces of Punjab and Balochistan have been affected by the worst monsoon rains in recent history which have so far caused nearly 200 deaths, left thousands homeless and transformed drought riven land into vast interior lakes of stagnant water.
"Though the flood waters are receding and people are going home, they not only face hunger but waterborne diseases are likely to erupt soon due to people drinking contaminated water. Already medical relief teams are reporting high rates of skin infections, conjunctivitis diarrhea and gastroenteritis, particularly amongst children," said UNICEF's Representative Omar Abdi.
Thousands of houses have been destroyed or damaged, crops lost and livestock drowned. Electricity and telephone lines, roads and other means of communication and infrastructure have been devastated. Rains, breaches in irrigation and drainage canals and surging seawater have contributed to the immense catastrophe with unpredictable weather patterns forecast to continue throughout August.
UNICEF responded immediately to the disaster by rushing in emergency supplies which have already been distributed in four of the worst affected districts. A second consignment of 45,000 Oral Rehydration Salts, 34,000 jerrycans, 900,000 water purification tablets and 900 kilos of chlorine powder is being dispatched this week.
“This is only the first phase. We believe that children of the area will be requiring further support for weeks, maybe months. Already UNICEF has begun to look at long term rehabilitation needs - especially getting children back to school,” said Mr Abdi.
The new school year which was to have resumed this week has been delayed at least until August 18 as schools have been serving as temporary relief sites. Furniture, textbooks and resources have more than likely been destroyed.
According to the Government of Sindh Relief Commission, which has been spearheading operations, nearly 860,00 people in Sindh alone have been either affected or displaced by the floods in thirteen of its 16 districts including the capital Karachi. Nearly 129,000 (17%) are children under five years of age who face a scarcity of food, safe water and the threat of epidemics and snakebites. Though people are beginning to return home, some 65,000 are living in 328 relief sites in overcrowded, miserable conditions.
The worst hit areas are the Districts of Badin, Thatta and Tharparker in Lower Sindh, one of the poorest regions in the Province where much of the population, some of whom are nomadic, have been recovering from eight years of drought which has already reduced family incomes to levels of extreme poverty. Low rates of literacy, lack of routine immunization and safe drinking water are pervasive.
As soon as the flooding hit, UNICEF in coordination with other UN agencies, dispatched assessment teams to Badin and Thatta and other districts to assist the Government led aid operation. The focus is now shifting to the Thatta and Tharparker in Sindh and to Southern Balochistan where the situation is still coming into focus.
To date, a total of USD$450,000 worth of supplies and logistical support has been supplied by UN agencies focusing on water, food and urgently needed medicines but more will be required in the ensuing weeks.
Substantial funds have been allocated for the relief work by the Pakistan Government which has established a committee to coordinate and execute operations. UNICEF and other UN agencies are working with the committee to alleviate distress and save lives. International and national NGO’s have also contributed to the crisis and will join the UN system in its efforts to monitor the situation.
Items that are still urgently needed include tents, mosquito nets, lanterns, blankets, sheets, food and medicines for gastroenteritis, conjunctivitis, anti-snake venom, clothes and cooking utensils.
The relief mission, which commenced on July 26, is now in its fourteenth day.
For further information or to arrange interviews contact:
Katey Grusovin, Communications Officer UNICEF Pakistan, (92) 300-5002595
A. Sami Malik, Communications Officer (92) 300-8556654