Nightmare for the vulnerable

Getting through the day in squelching mud and waist-high flood water is hard enough for the able-bodied. For the sick, the elderly, disabled, the very young and expecting mothers it is a nightmare.



As the death toll from Pakistan’s floods rises above 1,500, and flood waters move south, aid agencies have called for more assistance for vulnerable groups.



“I am a widow and my father-in-law is an old man. With water standing in the streets it is impossible for us to get to the shops,” Samina Bibi, 50, told IRIN from the city of Dera Ghazi Khan in Punjab Province.



Samina also recounted her neighbour’s ordeal: Rubina Khatoon, 21, “went into labour in her eighth month and had to give birth without any medical aid, assisted just by myself and a few other women who could get there”. 



Rubina’s son, her first child, is yet to be seen by a doctor two days after his premature birth: Conditions in the city remain chaotic. There is a clinic near our home but it is flooded and doctors have been unable to come to work, said Ghias Samiuddin, Rubina’s husband.



According to Punjab’s Relief and Crisis Management Department, nearly 1.4 million people have been affected there, some 25,000 houses have been destroyed and nearly twice as many damaged.



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isease



Khalid Ameen, a volunteer at a camp set up by the district administration in the town of Mianwali, in northwestern Punjab, said outbreaks of diarrhoea were particularly common among children, who “often drink standing water which is contaminated… There are many children who are ill with vomiting and stomach problems.”



A 5 August World Health Organization (WHO) briefing paper said drinking contaminated water could lead to cholera, typhoid fever, shigellosis and other diarrhoeal diseases, as well as hepatitis A and E.



Ahmed Shadoul, acting country representative for the WHO, told IRIN: “This is a crisis of quite a magnitude. We are receiving reports of diarrhoea, eye diseases, skin diseases, and there is a possibility of outbreaks of measles and other contagious diseases, against which we plan vaccination campaigns.”



He said relief efforts were being coordinated with the Ministry of Health and the focus of work included “early warning systems for contagious diseases”.



Lahore transport prices up



While the situation in remote areas of Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Province is grave, vulnerable groups in cities such as Lahore are also suffering.



“My daughter is disabled and suffers kidney disease. She needs regular dialysis. Getting her to hospital in a wheelchair is very hard,” Lahore resident Jamila Hasan told IRIN. She said public transport prices had risen sharply after the heavy rainfall, making it harder for those with mobility problems to get around.



“My father suffered a heart attack but it was hours before we could reach a hospital so he didn’t survive,” said Arifa Shahid, a student in Lahore. Ambulances failed to reach the family due to water on the roads. “If these are the conditions in one of the biggest cities, we can only shudder to think what it must be like in villages and smaller towns.”



From the town of Kalam in Swat Valley, KP Province, local resident Hassan Ali told IRIN: “We have no food here; the children are sick and several women who are expecting are panic-stricken over how they will manage when the time to give birth comes.”



kh/ed/cb