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Diseases intensify risks in Pakistan flood crisis

International Desk |
Update: 2010-08-14 02:11:45
Diseases intensify risks in Pakistan flood crisis

SUKKUR Pakistan : Disease outbreaks pose grave risks to victims of Pakistan`s worst floods in decades, aid agencies said on Friday, causing fresh concern about already complicated relief efforts.

The floods, triggered by torrential monsoon downpours, have engulfed Pakistan`s Indus river basin, killing more than 1,600 people, forcing two million from their homes and disrupting the lives of 14 million people, or 8 percent of the population.

At a hospital in Mingora, the main town in Swat valley, an official who asked not to be named told Reuters one case of cholera was confirmed. A German humanitarian organization said there were also six suspected cases there.

An epidemic could create another disaster for Pakistan.

A health crisis would tax aid agencies which are facing vast logistical challenges because of the damage and illness caused by the widespread flooding.

The United Nations is worried about water-borne diseases. There have been 36,000 suspected cases of potentially fatal acute watery diarrhea reported so far. It says the floods have affected about one-third of Pakistan.

"This is a growing concern. Therefore we are responding with all kinds of preventative as well as curative medication ... for outbreaks," Maurizio Giuliano, the U.N. humanitarian operation spokesman, told Reuters.

Floods have roared down from the northwest to Punjab province to southern Sindh.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expected to visit Pakistan over the weekend to discuss the crisis.

Pakistan`s overwhelmed government has been on the defensive after criticism of its response to one of the worst catastrophes in the country`s history.

The military, which has ruled U.S. ally Pakistan for more than half of its history, has swung into action.

President Asif Ali Zardari has started visiting flood victims after being attacked for leaving for meetings with European leaders as the disaster unfolded, and not cutting his trip short. Zardari said he lobbied for international aid for flood victims on his trip.

Despite the criticism of the government`s handling of the floods, political analysts rule out a military grab for power, or the government`s downfall over the disaster. But social unrest is possible, the analysts said.

BDST: 0932 HRS, August 14, 2010

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