Threat of disease looms amdist unhygienic conditions

Threat of disease looms amdist unhygienic conditions

A cook makes food for displaced people at the Chota Lahore refugee camp, at Swabi, in northwest Pakistan, Friday, May 29, 2009. The U.N. humanitarian chief issued a desperate appeal for hundreds of millions of dollars to help 2.4 million Pakistanis who have fled the war against Taliban militants, warning that the U.N. can only sustain its current aid efforts for one month. -AP

GENEVA: The UN refugee agency is pitching tents and building toilets for the families hosting an estimated 2 million Pakistanis uprooted by an offensive against the Taliban.

About 200,000 are sheltering in displacement camps and the rest have sought refuge in other villages and regions.

Doctors are treating people for disease, infection and mental disorders, and fear the monsoon season may bring more illness.

‘Many local families have seen their households double or triple overnight,’ UN agency spokesman Ron Redmond said on Friday. ‘The longer that situation goes on, the more difficult it becomes for … the people who are hosting them to maintain the same generosity.’

About 5,000 ‘family tents’ to shelter up to 50,000 people were distributed this week in the Mardan and Swabi districts of the North West Frontier Province, he said.

‘You are going to start seeing these tents being erected in the gardens of houses throughout those districts where families are hosting displaced people,’ Redmond told a news briefing in Geneva, where the UN High Commissioner for Refugees is based.

It is also providing hygiene kits and latrines to households, he said, as well as repairing village water pumps and improving sanitation facilities in mosques, which have also been helping to house and care for the uprooted.

Crowded host villages could also face the threat of disease as a result of low vaccination coverage and unhygienic conditions, the World Health Organisation told the briefing.

WHO spokesman Paul Garwood said that uprooted people without proper shelter also could face added risks during the monsoon season from water-borne diseases such as dysentery.

About 30,000 of those displaced by Pakistan’s conflict are estimated to have severe mental disorders as a result of the stress they have undergone, and this number could double as the fighting stretches on, Garwood said.

Doctors in the region have been treating people for acute respiratory-tract infections, diarrhoea, diabetes, high blood
pressure and asthma, and have reported some outbreaks of measles among the displaced though these appear to have been brought under control, according to the WHO.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, which is working with the Pakistani Red Crescent Society, also raised concerns about people who have been unable to leave areas of Swat where fighting is continuing.

In the main Swat town of Mingora, ICRC spokesman Florian Westphal said ‘there is no running water, there is no electricity, the district hospital has closed down’.

‘We are continuing our attempts to access that area, including Mingora, as quickly as possible, security permitting.’