Floods in Pakistan: A Public Health Crisis

Rachel Baek

In the summer of 2022, Pakistan’s record monsoon rains and melting glaciers culminated in a series of devastating floods, which at its peak engulfed a third of the country. The sheer scale of the disaster is such that it may take up to six months for the water to fully recede. Out of the 33 million affected, over 1,600 people, around 500 of them children, lost their lives. These grim statistics, however, do not include the wider population facing the “Second Disaster,” namely, the spread of waterborne diseases.

Amid the destruction, rapidly-spreading diseases coupled with a lack of healthcare access pose a significant problem; as of early October, over 340 people succumbed to their symptoms, and many more are at risk of the same fate. Causes of mass transmission are attributed to the substantial damage in water infrastructure as well as the stagnant water.

With no access to clean drinking water, sanitation facilities, or latrines, millions of civilians have no choice but to use the floodwater to drink, bathe, and fulfill excretory needs. Consequently, dangerous bacteria disseminates and thus engenders hygiene-related illnesses such as cholera and dysentery.

Julien Harneis, U.N. Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator in Pakistan, reported, “People … [defecate] in the waters and then [drink] from those same waters. Children … are washing in those waters.” 

The stagnant water has also become a breeding ground for prominent transmitters of malaria and dengue fever: mosquitos. Successful treatment of these diseases require medication that several Pakistanian medics report a shortage of.

Meanwhile, hospitals are inundated with patients. Several public health facilities were wiped out by the floods, leaving the few that survived with a surplus of patients–families who traveled miles from their wrecked village, women who are expecting to give birth, children who are too pale and too small, the outline of their ribs clearly defined from malnourishment

The present situation in Pakistan calls for support from the international community. China, Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the United States are among the nations who have provided humanitarian assistance. 

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