This week marks approximately one month after devastating floods raged through Pakistan, killing more than 1,600 people. Nearly 18 million people have been affected by the floods; over 6 million need access to humanitarian assistance, including food, water, housing and health care. Approximately one-fifth of the country is still underwater and flood waters have decimated national infrastructure – more than 200 hospitals and clinics were destroyed. Despite the receding waters and outpouring of humanitarian aid, the crisis in Pakistan is far from over. In fact, the tragedy could grow far worse.
Media coverage of the floods in Pakistan is declining day by day, as the story falls farther and farther down the headlines. However, as is common with many other natural disasters, the floods will continue to have a profound impact on the lives and futures of people living in Pakistan for a long time to come. In fact, now is a time of real crisis for the millions who survived the flood but cannot access health services and do not have access to clean drinking water.
As a result of flooding and lack of clean water and sanitation services, communicable diseases are on the rise and, as a result, public health officials fear an increase in the number of deaths. According to the World Health Organization’s Epidemiological Bulletin, the top four leading causes of seeking health care in areas affected by the flooding in Pakistan over the past month are acute diarrhea (314,814 cases), acute respiratory infections (317,450 cases), skin diseases (421,198) and suspected malaria (53,707 cases). Children are especially vulnerable to diarrhea and other illnesses, as they are more likely to become dehydrated than their adult counterparts. Another major concern is lack of access to food; UNICEF estimates that 72,000 severely malnourished children are at increased risk of death in areas impacted by the flood.
Now is not the time for this news story to fade away. Millions of men, women and children need access to shelter, food, clean water and health care services to survive the weeks, and months to come. The situation in Pakistan should remind us of the prolonged impact of natural disasters on public health. Often, the initial loss of life in these situations is the most visible and most reported. However, countless numbers of people continue to suffer long after the first days, or even weeks, of natural disasters. It is essential that the global health community continue to provide financial and technical support for Pakistan over the long term.