Growing reports of cholera in Pakistan add urgency to funding appeals

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon called the flooding in Pakistan a “slow-motion tsunami” and the worst natural disaster he had ever witnessed. Ban today urged the United Nations General Assembly to speed up assistance to the war-ravaged country.

According to the UN, about 47 percent of the $460 million in relief aid needed has been delivered.

About 20 million people have been affected by the floods which has so far claimed at least 1,200 lives. The World Health Organization (WHO) says that said relief efforts have been stymied by monsoonal rains and flood waters that have damaged or destroyed more than 200 hospitals and clinics.

With floodwaters covering more than 600 miles, or about one-quarter of Pakistan, disaster relief organizations are warning that millions are at risk for cholera and other deadly water-borne diseases.

“We are extremely concerned by reports of cholera in the Swat Valley,” Brendan Gormley, head of the UK-based Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), said today in a released statement.

About 86,000 suspected cases of acute watery diarrhea have been reported so far, according to UN officials. The UN Office of Humanitarian Affairs confirmed the first case of cholera in the Swat Valley last weekend. Acute watery diarrhea is one of the main symptoms of cholera although it can also be caused by other water-borne diseases.

“Aid workers greatly fear cholera after a disaster because, without treatment, more than half those infected are likely to die,” said Gormley. “Cholera can be prevented by providing clean drinking water, good sanitation and rapid treatment of those affected.”

DEC member organizations, including Oxfam, Save the Children and Merlin, are “redoubling their efforts” to truck in clean water, clean contaminated wells, provide diarrhea treatment, and generally improve sanitation in an effort to contain infectious disease outbreaks among the millions affected by Pakistan’s floods that began more than two weeks ago in the mountainous northwest.

Merlin reports that it has seen a significant rise in cases of acute watery diarrhea in the worst affected areas, particularly in young children.

“If left untreated, the rapid loss of fluids caused by acute watery diarrhea, such as with cholera, can prove fatal within hours,” according to Linda Doull, Merlin’s director of health and policy. “We need to ensure patients have access to medical staff, that enough diarrhea treatment units are set up swiftly and that the delivery of safe water is made an absolute priority.”


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