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PLOS BLOGS Speaking of Medicine and Health

The worsening situation in Pakistan

Dr Rhona MacDonald, Freelance editor,

As I am sure you are aware, the situation in Pakistan has deteriorated almost beyond belief since my last blog . 20 million people (Pakistan’s population is 180 million) are now affected in many regions of Pakistan and waterborne diseases (notably cholera) have started to make their deadly mark.The surging floods have destroyed and are continuing to destroy everything in their path—people (at least 1600 dead so far), infrastructure (roads, bridges etc), crops (billions of dollars worth of food destroyed) and of course homes and health facilities.

Photo courtesy of MCAI

The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon has recently visited declaring, “ I have witnessed many natural disasters around the world, but nothing like this, and said “The flood waves must be matched with waves of global support. “ .
Meanwhile some politicians have berated the international community for the woeful response to the catastrophe so far. Understandably, last weekend, Pakistan cancelled the planned independence-day marches (celebrating Pakistan’s independence from the UK 63 years ago) and the outlook seems overwhelmingly bleak when the immediate, interim and long term implications are collectively considered.

Many different organisations are working on the ground in Pakistan and in my capacity as volunteer CEO of the international medical charity Maternal Childhealth Advocacy International (MCAI), I have just received a report from our sister office in Pakistan where a local team has visited the flood affected areas in Nowshera, Swat and Madian in the northwest province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The team interviewed many people who were affected in these areas and they told them that their houses were literally swimming in the midst of muddy water. After the water level came down it ruined everything in their houses. Crops have been washed away or destroyed, trees have been pushed down by the strength of the water, and walls of buildings have crumbled and fallen. They also met many people whose relatives had perished in the floods.
Although the floodwaters are receding in some parts of the affected provinces, new storm systems are moving into the area and experts fear renewed flooding. The health team observed that the main problem is the outbreak of waterborne diseases but noted that food security is also a major challenge. The health team concluded: “ there’s going to be great needs in terms of clean water, food, clothing , shelter and health care services” and have estimated that at least four to six months of extensive work will be needed just to restore the basic facilities that have been destroyed. A sobering thought.

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