Stranded on rooftops

With thousands of people still stranded on rooftops in the northwestern province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP), there is mounting concern about disease outbreaks following the worst monsoon flooding in the area in decades.

A World Health Organization (WHO) assessment said the worst affected areas are the KP districts of Nowshera, Charsada, Swat, Shangla and Kohistan.

WHO noted an increase in diarrhoea cases due to contaminated water, and said there was an urgent need for diarrhoea treatment kits, psychosocial support, hygiene promotion interventions, the chlorination of water, tents for temporary health facilities and vaccination campaigns.

Media reports said diarrhoea and cholera were being reported in the Peshawar area, while Khalid Randhawa, district health officer for Rawalpindi District in the northern province of Punjab, said in that city “standing water had increased the chances of a spike in dengue fever in the weeks to come”.

The Aedes Aegypti mosquito, which spreads dengue, breeds in stagnant water.

“There is a real problem here. We are trying to reach people in the worst-hit areas - in Swat, Shangla and Charsadda districts - but it’s hard because roads are damaged. We hear people are falling sick, there is a lack of food and some may also be injured due to collapsing houses,” said Shamim Gul, a volunteer who, with teams of health workers, has been trying to reach the worst affected people.

Photo: Abdul Majeed Goraya/IRIN
Small children are more vulnerable to diseases such as diarrhoea

“We now have reports of over 1,100 people killed in the province,” KP Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain told IRIN. He said the situation was worst in Swat and Shangla districts.

Lt-Gen Nadeem Ahmed, chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority, told the media in Islamabad that about 2.5 million people “have been displaced by floods across the country”. Estimates for the number of deaths across the country are put at around 1,400 by the media.

Lack of access

“Access remains the main obstacle in terms of providing assistance to the affected areas of KP. The floods have significantly damaged roads and bridges - for example, all major bridges crossing the Swat River have been swept away,” said a 1 August update by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

The report said access to Upper Dir and Lower Dir districts, which were badly hit by floods, remains impossible. It said 150,000 families were in urgent need of help.

“There is no clean water here. People are drinking from pools of standing water that have mingled with sewage,” said Hassan Akhtar, 50, who with about 100 other people is staying in a makeshift camp set up at a government school in Peshawar, KP’s provincial capital. “There is no food or proper bedding.”

Over 300 people in Peshawar staged a protest on 1 August over poor conditions at camps.

The Pakistani army said 30,000 troops and dozens of helicopters were involved in the relief effort which had so far had rescued 28,000 people but was still trying to reach another 27,000 in KP.

“We have basically been stranded on rooftops for three days,” Azeem Khan, 40, told IRIN over the phone. “There are small children and the elderly with me, making up my family of eight. The food dropped from helicopters has not reached us. There is too much water to retrieve it. We have nothing to drink, no access to toilets and no help for my wife who is sick with high fever.”

Experts fear the situation could worsen if flooding rivers bring a surge of water to the southeastern province of Sindh. More rain has been forecast by the Met Office, and initial reports of flooding in Sindh villages began coming in on 2 August.