PAKISTAN: An "Impending Humanitarian Disaster"

(Cross-posted from SAJAforum)

PK - CampsThat's what Audil Rashid and Mian Nazish Adnan sound the alarm about in the July 4, 2009 issue of the British medical journal The Lancet, following their recent visits to camps set up to house internally displaced persons (IDPs) fleeing the conflict zone in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province. While Americans celebrate the Independence Day weekend with barbeques and fireworks, Rashid and Adnan paint a grim picture of the crisis in Pakistan:

From the very beginning it was evident that the government had underestimated the human cost of the military operation. As several camps were hastily set up to cater to the massive influx of IDPs, reports about the lack of even basic amenities in these camps began to emerge. Excessive heat (daytime temperatures soaring to 40°C and above), no electricity, food and water shortages, poor sanitation, and lack of proper health care are some of the immediate problems being faced by IDPs....

Lack of proper toilets and sanitation, unsafe drinking water, infrequent bathing, high air temperatures, inadequate disposal of solid waste, and the complete absence of a proper drainage system at the refugee camps are the main causes of worry for relief health workers. “This is the making of a disaster. These camps have been established on open tracts of land used for agricultural purposes. There are snakes, rats, and scorpions here. At night, when it is pitch dark because of no electricity, people sleep on the ground and are vulnerable to snakebites”, said M Idrees Mirza, a doctor who runs a private clinic in Rawalpindi city and is working voluntarily in the camps.

PK Camps - Map“Conditions in these camps make them perfect breeding areas for mosquitoes and many varieties of insects. In my opinion, there is a very high probability of an outbreak of any disease like mumps, measles, scabies, malaria, diarrhoea, polio, and leishmaniasis”, said another health worker working for a respected NGO who spoke to The Lancet on condition of anonymity. “We need medicines, doctors, and qualified health workers. And we need them urgently. Any delays might result in a human catastrophe of unimaginable proportions.”....

Eager to establish its writ over the Swat Valley, the government seems to have created a health crisis which it may not be able to overcome. [link; registration req'd]

Two letters in the same issue of The Lancet offer additional details. But as dire as the situation has become within the camps, K.M. Bile and Assad Hafeez note in one of those letters that the government camps house only 20 percent of the IDPs -- who may now total as many as 2.5 million individuals, almost half of them children:

Without counting the great costs to themselves, families in the local community are looking after more than 1·73 million people, in accordance with the local tradition of hospitality. Most displaced people have been accommodated within family homes; others are in schools, mosques, and other community buildings.... Although a proportion of host families are related to or friends of the displaced people, many have welcomed strangers. [link; registration req'd]

Continue reading at SAJAforum....

Posted by Anil Kalhan