Pakistan Floods Threaten Millions of Children
by Linda Bloom*
August 16, 2010—For some 3.5 million children, Pakistan's worst floods in 80 years could have deadly consequences.
That's the United Nations' estimate of how many are at risk for diarrhea, cholera, typhoid and other water-borne diseases.
In response, relief workers like Matt Capobianco, director of emergency programs for GlobalMedic, are on the front lines of the disaster, trying to provide clean drinking water to those displaced by the floodwaters.
"It's definitely a dire situation for a lot of people," he said.
A partner of the United Methodist Committee on Relief, GlobalMedic has been providing 40,000 liters of clean drinking water a day in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province. But the crisis has worsened since Capobianco arrived on Aug. 7. "The rains are continuing," he explained during a telephone conversation from the Punjab province, where he was helping set up a new relief station. "The areas that are being affected are increasing, it seems, almost daily."
As floodwaters from August monsoon rains spread over 82,000 square miles in Pakistan, the situation has been described as "a rolling earthquake." The death toll is estimated at 1,600, the homeless at 1.5 million and the number of people affected at millions more.
In the span of a few days, the number of families affected by the flooding has jumped from 14 million to 20 million, said Allan Calma, deputy director of the disaster management program for Church World Service in Pakistan.
The first wave of monsoon rains covered the Khyber and Balochistan provinces, but for the last week it has been raining in Punjab and Sindh provinces as well. "This has caused a lot of new flooding," explained Calma, who is coordinating the organization's relief activities from Islamabad.
David Sadoo, an UMCOR executive, agreed the flooding "is on a massive scale."
UMCOR already has issued a $75,000 grant to Church World Service, as well as smaller grants to GlobalMedic, Muslim Aid and the Church of Pakistan. He expects further requests for assistance, but said UMCOR needs more donations to respond to the immense needs in Pakistan.
Church World Service, working with other members of the Action by Churches Together Pakistan Forum, has provided food and supplies to 55,500 individuals, health care to 26,500 and shelter kits to 17,500. Food packages, distributed directly to families, include wheat flour and rice, beans, sugar, cooking oil, tea and iodized salt.
The long-term effects of flooding around the Indus River, which crosses through many villages, is a growing concern as the fall planting season approaches. "This river, once it started to overflow, inundated all of the nearby villages," Calma said. "Most of these villages rely on agriculture."
Results of a Church World Service agricultural livelihood project along the river were washed away, he added.
Short-term food supplies also are becoming a problem as suppliers cannot accommodate the demand by relief groups. The result is higher prices. In the past few weeks, "the price of food items in Pakistan has quadrupled," Calma said.
Calling for help
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, visiting Pakistan on Aug. 15, said he was shocked by the scale of the disaster and called on the international community for help.
"These unprecedented floods demand unprecedented assistance," he said during a press conference. "The flood waves must be matched with waves of global support."
He expressed concern about the spread of water-borne diseases and pledged that the United Nations would distribute clean water for at least 6 million people.
Church World Service is collecting data on children affected by water-borne disease, Calma said, as its permanent health facilities and two mobile health units promote awareness about the floodwater dangers and the need for purification.
GlobalMedic has installed water-purification units and will distribute 4.5 million water-purification tablets. It plans to send sachets of oral rehydration salts into less accessible areas via helicopter, boat or motorcycle.
"The clean drinking water, right now, is absolutely key to stave off the outbreak of disease," Capobianco said.
On Aug. 17, Capobianco was helping a new GlobalMedic team set up a 22-by-42 foot inflatable hospital in Punjab, with a large water-purification center next to it.
"That's going to act as the primary health-care center," he explained. "Everyone in the area around us will be able to come up and get clean water. We'll (also) be sending out trucks with water tanks on the back."
Donations to support the work of UMCOR partners in Pakistan can be made through Pakistan Flash Floods UMCOR Advance #982450 .
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter based in New York.