The Pakistani government and humanitarian development agencies’ less than satisfactory involvement in ensuring potable water and proper sanitation facilities in the flood-ravaged districts of lower Sindh has resulted in increased health risks, especially viral and waterborne diseases, for the affected people living in those districts, warned Peoples Accountability Commission on Floods (PACF)’s Civil Society Floods Situation Report on water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) response in Sindh issued on Wednesday.
The report disclosed that 87 percent of the total available water sources have become unfit for drinking purposes due to addition of rainwater and agricultural waste when floods wreaked havoc on the province.
“If this situation continues and the government takes no notice, an epidemic of abdominal diseases could hit these areas and women and children, especially minors, could suffer the most. Due to unhygienic conditions prevalent in the province, a cholera outbreak could also occur,” warned the report.
The report revealed that neither the government nor the humanitarian development agencies have met the required targets, and the needs of only 15 percent of the affectees have been met in the WASH sector, which is not enough to tackle the challenges faced by the underprivileged flood survivors and is increasing their miseries.
PACF members Ali Hassan Chandio, Nisar Sheikh, Ramzan Memon, Nisar Panhwar and Saleem Abbasi, who released the report, said it was an alarming situation that around 2.2 million women and children have been directly hit in highly affected districts, because no adequate response in the WASH sector was ensured when the flood survivors were settled in relief camps.
They said 2.5 million flood survivors were in urgent need of potable water and proper sanitation and hygiene education during the emergency relief services, and 1.2 million affectees are still waiting for response in these sectors.
They underlined the need of meeting the immediate requirements of the survivors in the WASH sector in the early recovery framework, asking for restoration of basic structures of latrines, providing access to protected water for drinking, and ensuring proper sanitation, drainage and waste management facilities, which remain critical issues in the affected areas.
They said floods have reduced access to piped drinking water for the affectees and increased the number of people relying on unprotected and untreated sources of water.
Quoting a World Health Organisation (WHO) report, they said up to 87 percent of water sources tested for drinking are unfit.
The number of people practising open defecation has also increased, which is a cause of further spread of viral diseases among the flood survivors, they added.
They maintained that there is an urgent need of involvement in the WASH sector because majority of the survivors have returned to their homes in the affected areas where health and sanitation facilities have been adversely damaged.
There is also an urgent need of restoring health and sanitation facilities in the affected areas to support improved behaviour for hygiene, they added.
They expressed concern over the government’s decision to stop relief services on December 31, 2011, and start early recovery framework from January 2012.
They said they have learnt that the revision of the flash appeal for early recovery framework has been put on hold at the federal level.
They pointed out that it was decided by the Humanitarian Country Team that all clusters would continue with the original flash appeal – September 2011 to March 2012 – and revision on the basis of early recovery framework would be done for January to September 2012.
The PACF members said unhygienic conditions prevalent in the flood-affected areas of Sindh are causing outbreak of cholera, infections and other epidemics.
Keeping in view last week’s cholera update in Jamshoro and Badin districts, WHO representatives suggested integrated approach to holistically respond to the emerging challenges in the WASH and health sectors.
They said people are deprived of potable water in the affected areas because damages to hand pumps and piped water have rendered them unusable and people are resorting to alternative, often unprotected, water sources.
They disclosed that after devastation by floods, an estimated one million people are using unprotected water sources.
Moreover, they added, many people have been displaced and are currently living in roadside camps where water supply might be limited.
The report showed a decrease of 10 percent in the number of people obtaining water from protected sources post-floods, whereas a decrease of 5 percent in the number of people obtaining water from piped sources was also shown.
The PACF members recommended that there was a strong need of promoting hygiene education among the flood survivors to develop the habit of using treated water, because 91 percent of Sindh’s households do not treat water before consumption.
They said it is likely that incidences of waterborne infectious diseases would be increased due to a decline in the use of protected water sources and limited practice of water treatment.
They also said 40 percent of the protected water sources are not yet functional, 32 percent are partially damaged, and 8 percent are completely non-functional.
Similarly, they added, 49 percent of the piped water and 58 percent of the tanker sources are entirely non-functional as well.
They suggested that majority of the survivors, during pre- and post-settlement period, were deprived of hygienic items, such as soap for hand-washing, and separate bathroom facilities for women.
They said due to poor response and failure in providing proper washing facilities to the affectees, the environment has been polluted more, as waste matter is being released in rivers, streams, canals and water channels.
Ecological sanitation is also being affected by releasing of the organic matter in the environment, they added.
Keeping in view the population growth of the province, the PACF members said, the challenges have increased.
They said the change in the budget has been of only Rs 475 million to the water and sanitation sectors under the 2011-12 budget.
The government should include over Rs 4.8 billion to water and sanitation-related Millennium Development Goals to improve water sanitation and hygienic facilities according to international standards, they added.
They suggested that the government should take appropriate precautionary steps for disaster risk management to tackle any future calamity.
They recommended that the federal government should endorse the revised appeal regarding early recovery projects for restoration and rehabilitation in the flood-affected districts of Sindh.
The report suggested introducing disaster insurance for vulnerable communities so that flood survivors no longer depend on the government’s response or donors’ finance.
PACF members stressed following approved national environmental quality standards for ensuring direct release of untreated or partially-treated sewage water in streams, rivers, irrigation systems and other natural habitats.
They said the concept of ecological sanitation should be followed while designing a sanitation scheme during the early recovery and rehabilitation phases.
The ecological sanitation takes into consideration prevention of diseases, promotion of health, protection of environment, conservation of water, and recycling of nutrients and organic matter, they added.
They said grey water (from laundry, dishwashing and bathing) should be separated from black water (from toilets) while developing a sewerage system.
“Compared to black water, grey water requires less effort to treat. Grey water can be made usable for irrigation purposes as well as for pour-flush latrines after normal treatment,” they added.
The PACF members said in the rural and semi-urban setups, treatment of wastewater through constructed wetlands could be easily done.
Sanitation programmes should preferably make use of this system, especially in water-deficient areas, they added.
They emphasised avoiding water contamination by maintaining at least 60 metres of distance between latrines, waste dumps, sewerage systems and water supply sources (bored wells, dug wells, natural springs or streams)