As Executive Director visits Pakistan, UNICEF works to deliver safe water to flood zone
NEW YORK, USA, 30 August 2010 – Massive flooding continues to devastate Pakistan. Nearly 18 million people have been affected and about a fifth of the country remains underwater. The number of people killed has increased to almost 1,600 since the beginning of the flooding just over one month ago.
After weeks of rain, the downpour has now largely stopped. Recovery efforts are under way in parts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and southern Punjab provinces, and people are being encouraged to return home from the camps for the displaced where they have been living in tents for weeks.
UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake arrived in Pakistan today to tour flood-affected areas. Mr. Lake is beginning his visit in Charsadda, one of the worst affected districts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, where UNICEF is providing safe water and health and hygiene supplies to thousands of families who are still taking temporary shelter in schools.
As floodwaters drain south from the Indus River, meanwhile, there are new and growing concerns in the province of Sindh. The possibility of additional flooding in this southern region now looms.
“This is a massive crisis,” said the Chief of Water, Environment and Sanitation (WASH) for UNICEF Pakistan, Omar el-Hattab. “Unfortunately, people are defecating wherever they can,” he added. “And then they use this very water to drink.”
Mr. El-Hattab noted that while the floods are receding and there is a return to normalcy in some provinces, access to clean, potable water remains a challenge in terms of logistics and resources throughout the country.
There are still a significant number of people currently living on roadsides in the flood zone. UNICEF is working to improve sanitation facilities in public buildings, mosques and schools – buildings that are easily accessible and that can provide the basic social services along Pakistan’s roadways.
Without access to safe water, Mr. El-Hattab said, UNICEF fears the spread of illness – particularly malaria and diarrhoea. This past weekend saw an increase of 1 million patients seeking medical assistance for a variety of flood-related illnesses. Children make up roughly half of the affected population and are particularly vulnerable to disease.
To date, UNICEF has been able to reach more than 2 million people every day with safe drinking water. Using water tanks and repaired water supply systems, the government and aid agencies are collaborating to reach as many people as possible.
However, UNICEF is currently only able to provide water and not the full array of sanitation services that it would like to offer. The organization simply does not have the supplies available locally for the millions of people in need.
“Operations such as water tankering and the like are unsustainable and undoable, even if the resources are available,” stressed Mr. El-Hattab. “The fleet itself does not exist in Pakistan.”
There have also been several major setbacks as a result of the flooding.
“Unfortunately, we lost our entire contingency stock because our biggest warehouse in Peshawar was flooded,” said Mr. El-Hattab. “Everything inside was compromised.”
As a result, UNICEF is working on new ways to tackle supply issues, including the mass production of water filtration plants and latrines. This effort, it is hoped, will increase the possibility of reaching more flood victims and reducing the spread of disease. But supplying safe water remains a daily challenge across Pakistan.