Pakistan's Earthquake Aftermath Brings New Crisis

Victims of South Asia's colossal quake face yet another imminent crisis as lack of sanitation facilities is drawing the concerns of water and sanitation officers over the serious potential for the spread of diseases.

|PIC1|It has been almost three weeks since the 7.6 magnitude earthquake – the largest in the last 100 years – devastated homes, buildings, roads and latrines in Pakistan. Although latrines may seem a small loss compared to collapsed 10-story buildings or the urgent need for blankets and shelters, the lack of sanitation facilities in the earthquake-stricken areas of Pakistan is a grave situation that can lead to the outbreak of contagious diseases among survivors, according to disaster relief groups in the area. Presently, thousands of people have no access to latrines.

"But even more important [than clean water supplies] is the lack of latrines. We think we have five or six hundred thousand shelters that have been wiped out – and then the toilets and latrines have also been wiped out,” said Bill Fellows, a senior regional water and sanitation officer for UNICEF in South Asia, according to Action by Churches Together (ACT) last Tuesday.

“Then we have a huge, huge problem, it is a ticking time bomb with several million people just openly defecating in their immediate environment. The amounts of excreta and the lack of hygiene is of a scale that I have never had to deal with in 30 years of working in this sector," emphasised Fellows.

|QUOTE|The UNICEF officer noted that the quake situation is greater in terms of affected areas than the tsunami disaster last year, and thus the situation involving lack of latrines will affect more people than the tsunami.

"We are dealing with an area that is actually larger than the tsunami. We are dealing with one of the most difficult terrains in the world. And we are dealing with an affected population that is even larger than the one affected by the tsunami,” said Fellows to ACT.

“So in three dimensions we are dealing with a problem that is even worse than the tsunami was."

Dr. Geoff Ibbotson, a Samaritan’s Purse doctor onsite in Pakistan agrees with Fellows.

“I’m afraid the enormity here is being missed,” said Ibbotson. “This is bigger than the tsunami.”

|TOP|Yet in spite of the massive sanitation crisis, Christian health organisations such as Medical Assistance Programs (MAP) International is helping to alleviate the potential of a disease outbreak in Pakistan by shipping US$2 million in essential medicines and supplies to Islamabad. Among the items are two Johnson & Johnson Disaster Modules. The Modules contain large pre-packed assortment of essential disaster supplies. In addition to the modules, MAP also sent antibiotics and oral rehydration salts.

MAP has also shipped from Europe three Emergency Health Kits (EHK) that can provide first aid and health care for 30,000 people for 90 days.

The UNICEF water and sanitation officer, in conclusion, emphasized the need to quickly mobilise efforts and reach survivors in remote areas.

"What makes it even more difficult, in terms of time, is that winter is setting in. And as soon as winter sets in we are going to lose our access to hundreds of thousands of people. If we don't reach them before that, and we go back in the spring, we may find no one left," said Fellows.

Michelle Vu
Christian Today Correspondent