The Disasters Emergency Committee in the UK has expressed grave concern following reports of cholera in Pakistan’s Swat Valley.
With floodwaters affecting a fifth of the country, and stretching for more than 600 miles, the DEC warned that millions of people are at risk of potentially deadly water borne diseases.
Disasters Emergency Committee chief executive Brendan Gormley says: “We are extremely concerned by reports of cholera in the Swat valley. The numbers reportedly affected so far appear to be small but cholera causes acute watery diarrhoea which allows it to spread very quickly in cramped, unhygienic conditions."
“Aid workers greatly fear cholera after a disaster because, without treatment, more than half those infected are likely to die. Cholera can be prevented by providing clean drinking water, good sanitation and rapid treatment of those affected. Our member agencies will be redoubling their efforts to improve the provision of clean water and sanitation to the huge number of people affected by the flooding. Any outbreaks of highly infectious diarrhoeal diseases need to be contained as quickly as possible in order to prevent further deaths,” he added.
Millions of survivors are currently struggling without access to safe water, more than two weeks after the disaster first struck. Merlin, a member agency of the DEC, has seen a significant rise in cases of acute watery diarrhoea throughout the worst affected areas, particularly in young children. With as many as 20% of patients in some areas affected.
Linda Doull, Director of Health and Policy at Merlin, commented: “If left untreated, the rapid loss of fluids caused by acute watery diarrhoea, such as with cholera, can prove fatal within hours."
She continued: “We need to ensure patients have access to medical staff, that enough diarrhoea treatment units are set up swiftly and that the delivery of safe water is made an absolute priority."
“Most cholera cases can be effectively and easily treated with oral rehydration salts, costing just 3p per sachet," she said.
UN officials have said there have been 86,000 suspected cases of acute watery diarrhoea reported so far. Acute watery diarrhoea is one of the main symptoms of cholera although it can also be caused by other water borne diseases.
DEC member agency efforts to treat and prevent waterborne diseases include:
* Oxfam has provided clean water for over 150,000 people by fixing water systems and trucking clean water supplies. As well as purchasing aid in- country, they have sent 19,000 water purification tablets, 455 latrine slabs/squatting plates and six de-watering kits (pumps for cleaning contaminated wells).
* Merlin has delivered 4,000 packets of water purification tablets - enough to make 400,000 litres of safe drinking water - 48,000 packs of oral rehydration salts and 20,000 doses of antibiotics to help fight the rising number of diarrhoeal disease and other infections. They are also setting up 3 Diarrhoea Treatment Units in three districts, capable of treating 300 patients at any one time.
* Save the Children has established a diarrhoea treatment center in Swat for children and adults, and is distributing hygiene kits, and conducting hygiene promotion to prevent rise in water-borne diseases like acute watery diarrhoea.
* Concern have given clean drinking water to 12,400 in Swat and Charsadda.
To make a donation to the DEC Pakistan Floods Appeal call the 24 hour hotline on 0370 60 60 900, visit http://www.dec.org.uk or donate over the counter at any post office or high street bank, or send a cheque. You can also donate £5 by texting the word GIVE to 70707