International Rescue Committee (IRC)

Fighting disease in Sindh, one year after the floods

DAY 2

This morning we drove the long straight road from Sukkur towards Shikarpur. Although this is the busiest thoroughfare in the area, the road has been almost completely destroyed by the floodwater. The tarmac has been stripped away leaving one narrow lane in each direction to accommodate the wide array of traffic – from the huge colourfully decorated traders trucks that transport goods across Pakistan, to the rickety wooden donkey carts which, at this time of year, are piled fifteen to twenty feet high with fresh watermelons.

Despite the bumpy ride, the bustling traffic gives the impression that life has returned to normal. However, as we turn off the main road and on to dusty back tracks, it is clear that the floods continue to cast a long shadow over life in Sindh.

For people in the first village we arrive at, the floods destroyed almost their entire existence. Every building here was flattened by the power of the flood water. Ramshackle shelters made from reeds and canvas provide the only protection from the elements.

Abdul Attar tells me how his way of life disappeared along with his home.

“Before the flood I had a good life as a poultry farmer. I had three or four people working in my small farm and kept many chickens. Now I have nothing. I just want to get my life back on track.”

Abdul’s story is a common one around here. Many more villages would have slipped through the cracks without assistance from international relief agencies like the IRC.

In the neighboring village of Agha Lal Bux, the community elders proudly show me the water pumps and latrines installed by the IRC to provide clean water and help combat the spread of disease.

Following the floods, many freshwater wells in Sindh filled with mud, while the rudimentary sewage system was overwhelmed. Without clean water and a way for people to get dry and stay warm, there was a high risk of disease. When the floods first hit the IRC team in Pakistan focused on ensuring supplies of drinking water, and distributing hygiene kits, and plastic sheeting to those in need. These hygiene kits included simple tools to clean and store water, such as disinfectant tablets and jerry cans, as well as towels, plastic sheeting, and oral rehydration salts to combat diarrhea and vomiting.

While the flooding has mostly subsided, the threat of illness is still very real. Good hygiene and clean water remain the best defense. In the clearing in the center of Agha Lal Bux, I watch as an IRC team conduct a hygiene training session for villagers. The villagers explain to me how the distribution of water purification tablets and training in essential personal and household hygiene have helped to drastically cut the rate of disease. Everywhere we go people are grateful for the big difference such a small change is making to their lives.

I sit in on one of the training sessions – young mothers are being taught how to spot tell-tale signs of malnutrition in their babies. The most recent estimates are that in northern Sindh 23% of all children aged 6-59 months are malnourished – far about the World Health Organisation’s emergency threshold. As she sits with her young son in her arms, Sadia tells me that “thankfully, there has not been a malnourished child in our village for many months.”

Euan Robinson, IRC-UK policy officer, recently visited Sindh province in Pakistan, one of the regions hit the worst by last year’s floods.  This is the second three blog posts about his trip. (Read Part 1 here.)

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