MUZAFFARABAD – Diseases can break out in the city owing to the poor sanitation conditions and unhealthy living, which will be deteriorating further in the coming weeks owing to the impending climate changes.
So far the administration seem to be doing nothing in this regard as it is busy in providing bare minimum to the victims. Although there are plans in the offing for proper installation of these tent villages – which have mushroomed around and inside the city without any planning – so that proper conditions could be maintained till the victims return to their homes.
Creating temporary residential quarters and related facilities for the victims from an estimated 3.5 million people affected by the earthquake on October 8 is no doubt a stupendous task, but maintaining it properly keeping in mind health of the residents is even a bigger job at hand. Another 150,000 earthquake victims also need to be housed in camps. Officials of the United Nations have maintained that aid agencies needed $ 42.4 million immediately to help victims for “a minimum requirement for 30 days.”
Most of the residents of the tent villages, set-up by various non-governmental organisations, both local and international, have not got proper sanitation facilities. On the other hand, these NGOs have been unable to provide the same owing to the resource constraints and lack of space. “What can we do when the sewage system is also either dysfunctional because of the tremors or non-existent. On the other hand, our priority is to provide tents and food to its residents, who need these in the first place,” said Pervaiz Qureshi, who is coordinating relief efforts for a local welfare trust. He also pointed out provision of toilets to the quake victims within next few days as his organisation was in the process of purchasing the required paraphernalia for setting up toilets. “Now the victims are using open spaces, and one downpour will create a mess here. We are praying that it does not rain because it will deteriorate the situation here,” he added. This problem will get more complicated after two months because the vacant places around the tents would be filled with filth and excrement. During a visit to these tents, stench at a few places was simply unbearable.
Another problem being faced by the residents is the unclean water. The administration is providing water through tanks, but that is not fit for drinking. “Most of these tanks are being filled from open reservoirs, and these are further shifted to the rusty water tanks situated in these tent villages. So there is a huge possibility of contamination, which will be in turn consumed by the residents,” said Muhammad Iqbal, who is looking after relief affairs of Minhaj Welfare Organisation. To him, it was almost impossible to provided bottled water to all the residents because of limited supply.
Drinking of unclean water can cause multiple digestive system related problems. Presently, almost all the field hospitals are dealing with the quake victims, who come to them with fractured bones. However, a field hospital was seen receiving patients with minor ailments, like fever and dysentery.
On the other hand, people who are mostly without proper clothes to combat chilly weather, will throng these hospital with cold-related diseases.
Nestled at an altitude of 1,600 metres in the mountains circling the town of Bagh, the small village of Ratnoi accommodates hundreds of patients, who seek treatment in the tents of foreign aid organisations. Thousands can die of hypothermia if they don't get shelter. However, there is a small window of opportunity, that is, two weeks. People are in the mountains without shelter, and they don't want to leave their ancestral land and their families. Doctors have noticed an increase in acute respiratory problems, bronchitis, and pneumonia, who need immediate treatment apart from the victims.
Around the devastated cities of Muzaffarabad and Balakot, tent cities shelter hundreds of thousands of survivors of the massive quake, which left 3.3 million homeless.
Quite a large number are already suffering from Tetanus. Quite a few of them had already been shifted to Lahore and other public hospitals of the Punjab. In one batch of patients, which reached the Lahore General Hospital, four patients were suffering from tetanus and were shifted to the Mayo Hospital immediately.
“If any disease will break out in the area, then another front will open for the government and the NGOs working in the area. There is a dire to do something on urgent basis so that such a situation does not occur,” said Muhammad Iqbal. (November 7, 2005)