Pakistan: Treating floods displaced communities in Southern Sindh

Mohammed Khan* was spending the summer holiday, waiting to join the 10th grade when the floods came and submerged his hometown of Khaipur and many other parts of Pakistan. The torrential rains and massive water flows washed away his village Khaipur and changed his life. Fleeing their collapsed house with his parents and eight siblings, Mohammad became one of the 6,000 internally displaced people in Shahbaz Colony Camp, Jamshoro, Sindh province. The fifteen-year-old Mohammad had to stop school and now runs a small convenience shop in the camp.

Mohammad, however, considers himself luckier than his new neighbours. “We lost our house. So did our neighbours. But we have this shop to earn money but our neighbours have nothing to do,’’ he said.

Following the floods, Jamshoro has become a new home for nearly 43,000 people, most of whom are from the surrounding villages of Dadu, Khaipur, Jacobabad, and Sehwan and now live in makeshift shelters in various camps or any dry open space they could find. It’s a bitter irony that these people fled floodwaters, only to now find themselves in a barren and parched wasteland nothing short of a desert, where the sun still beats down mercilessly even though summer is ending. Every day choking dust storms sweep in and peoples’ tents and makeshift shelters offer little respite from constantly buffeting winds. A few families have found refuge in an abandoned low cost housing settlement, but they have no access to running water and depend on regular MSF tanker trucks for safe water.

“The water took away everything we had. Now we do not have a house, land to farm or any of our cattle. We do not know what to do and where to go,” Nablia Adwani said while waiting at an MSF mobile clinic to have a doctor assess the diarrhoea she was suffering from.

In the aftermaths of the floods, MSF’s priority is to provide flood-affected population with access to healthcare, clean water and essential items such as cooking kits, hygiene kits, and tents. In and around Jamshoro, MSF provides health consultations and treatment through its mobile clinics and Diarrhoea Treatment Centres (DTC).

For the poor, health care is already a luxury and the floods only exacerbate this situation.  A consultation in a local private health clinic costs at least 300 rupees (enough to buy two meals), a price that is way beyond the means of most of people in the camp. The critical lack of proper shelter and safe water are driving increased unhygienic living condition which has meant a sharp increase in the number of people who need health care.

“I have been sick for five months and I do not have enough food for my six children, let alone paying to see the doctor,’’ said Aamila Bodani. Today after being attended to by MSF doctor Adeela Khan she waits to have her prescription dispensed. “I am glad that now we can get medicine for free in this camp.’’

Just two hours into their activities in Shahbaz, MSF medical team saw over 100 patients, most of them have skin diseases, diarrhoea, and eye infections. Using a coloured sliding measure placed around the middle upper arm, the team has started screening for malnutrition among children under five, pregnant and lactating women and provides high-calorie biscuits to those with showing signs of malnutrition. Since the onset of the floods emergency in Sindh two MSF mobile clinic teams, have conducted 4,001 consultations in and around Jamshoro.

In neighbouring Sehwan, 120 kilometres north of Jamshoro, MSF has opened a new DTC to treat and prevent an area-wide outbreak of acute watery diarrhoea. “Sehwan is densely populated and here we have discovered many unattended pockets of people in this area with high needs in terms of health care and access to safe water. Our DTC can accommodate 20 patients at the moment but we are ready to increase capacity to 100 beds if there is an outbreak,’’ Monica Falk, MSF’s medical focal point for Jamshoro, said.

In addition to providing at least 300,000 litres of safe water per day to displaced population in and around Jamshoro, to improve the hygiene of their living condition, MSF health promoters go around the camps to raise awareness on proper hygiene, measures to reduce the risk of catching diarrhoea and what to do if one is infected.  

“It does not help patients to take diarrhoea medication when they take it with contaminated water, or when they do not know enough about hygiene,’’ said Dr Adeela Khan said while examining a patient at the mobile clinic.  

Two months after the floods hit Pakistan, the needs of hundreds of thousands of flood affected people remain huge and much more remains to be done. Walking back to her tent clutching her medication Aamila said she and her family just want to go back to their village and restart their lives. But that is a long-term plan. “For now, I just want my children to be healthy, for them to have enough food and water,’’ she said.  

Since 1988, MSF has been providing medical assistance to Pakistani nationals and Afghan refugees suffering from the effects of armed conflicts, poor access to health care and natural disasters in KPK, FATA, Balochistan, Sindh, Punjab, and Kashmir.

Since the start of the floods in Pakistan MSF has distributed 57,714 relief item kits and 13,755 tents; treated over 1,748 malnourished children, performed 49,534 medical consultations; set up seven Diarrhoea Treatment Centres; continuously conducts seven mobile clinics; distributes 1,250,400 litres of clean, safe water per day; built 714 latrines.

135 international staff are working alongside 1,198 Pakistani staff in MSF’s existing and flood response programs in Pakistan.

MSF does not accept funding from any government for its work in Pakistan and chooses to rely solely on private donations.

* All names have been changed to protect anonymity of patients