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Water and sanitation projects aim to prevent deaths among quake survivors

© UNICEF Pakistan/2005/Zaidi
This child is getting clean water from one of the taps installed by UNICEF and partners in a newly- constructed camp for displaced people in Jaba, North West Frontier Province, Pakistan.

By Javier Marroquin

MANSEHRA, Pakistan, 15 November 2005 – More than a month after a massive earthquake devastated northern Pakistan, a lack of clean water and adequate sanitation is threatening the lives of survivors. UNICEF and partners are working to prevent disease and deaths in relief camps by providing water and storage tanks, setting up latrines and distributing hygiene supplies.

“Clean water and sanitation are really priority number one for the survival of earthquake-affected people,” said UNICEF Communication Officer Julia Spry-Leverton. As many as 1.7 million people may have no access to safe water. Poor sanitation contributes to diarrhoeal disease, which can easily be fatal to children; there are already some reports of child deaths from these causes.

Providing displaced people with the necessities of life, including water, continues to be a huge challenge. “In some areas the logistical access is extremely difficult, and that has been exacerbated by the fear of winter – snows are already coming down,” said Ms. Spry-Leverton.

Hygiene kits

Despite the difficulties, clean water is being provided for tens of thousands in many areas. In Mansehra, UNICEF is supplying water for some 50,000 people, and has begun water chlorination in many of the camps.

© UNICEF Pakistan/2005/Zaidi
UNICEF Water Engineer Mahboob Bugwa inspects the pipeline that will bring natural stream water to camps for displaced people in Jaba.

Mansehra’s population has doubled as a result of people fleeing there after the disaster. Delivering sufficient clean water by truck has proven to be unsustainable. UNICEF is now working with the government on alternative ways of supplying the needed water.

UNICEF and partners are accelerating production of latrines in camps for displaced people. At least 600,000 are needed. UNICEF is also distributing 40,000 family hygiene kits, which include items like soap, towels, and toothbrushes. 

“The distribution of hygiene kits to affected families is a key action. It is absolutely critical when there is a danger of commutable diseases, and when water is in short supply,” said Ms. Spry-Leverton.

A new pipeline

In a remote mountain area near a newly-constructed camp for people made homeless by the quake, a UNICEF water and sanitation team waits anxiously. They are here to check on the success of their efforts to provide a new source of water for the camp. The team is listening for the flow of water through a 3-inch diameter metal pipe that descends from a stream in the mountains and crosses the valley to the camp 3 km away.

“I hope the water comes,” says UNICEF Water Engineer Mahboob Bugwa. “We’ve put enormous hope into this project and it has to function... it has to!

“If it works we will be able to supply natural stream water to more than 1,600 people who are already there, as well as the 3,000 expected [additional residents]. The total amount will be 360,000 litres of water per day,” continues Mr. Bugwa.

The team’s vigil passes in silence for quite some time – not a sound from the pipe. Some of those present touch the pipe from time to time. Suddenly there is a watery gurgling, at first almost inaudible, then increasingly loud. Success! The team claps and hugs.

UNICEF has already signed an agreement with the Government’s Works and Services Department to bring natural water to ten more camps like the one supplied by this pipeline. This project will bring fresh water to more than 15,000 people.


Kun Li and Eric Mullerbeck contributed to this story from New York.




15 November 2005:
UNICEF Communication Officer Julia Spry-Leverton discusses the urgent need for clean water and adequate sanitation for people made homeless by the quake in Pakistan.

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