KARACHI, Pakistan — At least nine people have died from a water-borne disease in flood-hit areas in Pakistan, officials said Tuesday, as actress Angelina Jolie made a surprise visit to the South Asian country to meet people affected by the crisis .
A strong and prolonged monsoon brought about three times the average rainfall in recent weeks in Pakistan, causing major floods that killed 1,559 people, including 551 children and 318 women, according to the disaster management agency.
Officials have warned they now risk losing control of the spread of the infection in dire conditions described by UNICEF as “very bleak”.
Hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the floods live in the open air, and as the hundreds of miles of floodwaters begin to recede — which officials say could take two to six months — the stagnant water has caused malaria, dengue fever, skin diseases, and eye diseases. External infection and acute diarrhea.
Jolie visited flood-affected communities in one of the worst-hit areas in southern Pakistan, the Metropolitan Region.
According to IRC, the international aid group that facilitated the visit, she met with several women who now live in tents. They described their struggles and told her they needed food, water and medical care.
Jolie has been working on international humanitarian causes for over a decade, and she also visited Pakistan in 2010 following deadly floods.
The World Health Organization says the surge in disease threatens to trigger a “second catastrophe”.
“The disease has broken out,” said Ahsan Iqbal, Pakistan’s planning minister, who also heads the National Flood Response Centre, which is run jointly by the government and the military.
“We are concerned that it might get out of control,” he told a news conference in the capital Islamabad.
In Sindh, the province hardest hit by the floods, the provincial government said nine people died on Monday from gastroenteritis, acute diarrhoea and suspected malaria, bringing the total number of deaths from the disease since July 1 to 318.
Since July 1, more than 2.7 million people have been treated for waterborne diseases at makeshift or mobile hospitals set up in flood-affected areas, with 72,000 being treated at those facilities on Monday alone, the report said.
Three other provinces have also reported thousands of cases of the disease.
The influx has overwhelmed Pakistan’s already weak health system. The Sindh provincial government said more than 1,200 medical facilities were still flooded.
Malaria and diarrhoea are spreading rapidly, said Moinuddin Siddique, director of the Abdullah Shah Institute of Health Sciences in the flooded Sehwan city. “We were overwhelmed,” he told Reuters.
At a press conference, Planning Minister Iqbal called on wealthy people in society to come forward to help fight the floods, and asked medical volunteers to work hand in hand with the government.
He called for 2 million nutrition packs for pregnant mothers and newborn babies, saying the government was building more mobile hospitals and clinics in affected areas.
Record monsoon rains and melting glaciers in northern Pakistan sparked floods that affected nearly 33 million people in the South Asian country of 220 million people, washing away homes, crops, bridges, roads and livestock, with damage estimated at $30 billion. Climate change has exacerbated the disaster, scientists say.
The government said GDP growth in the 2022-23 financial year was likely to slow to 3% from an earlier estimate of 5%.
In what UNICEF described as “very bleak”, it said an estimated 16 million children were affected by the floods and at least 3.4 million girls and boys still needed immediate lifesaving support.
Gerida Birukila, chief field officer for UNICEF Pakistan in southwestern Balochistan, described the situation as “heartbreaking”.
She told a news conference in Geneva on Tuesday that the children were surrounded by stagnant pools of stagnant water poisoned with fertilizer and feces, full of diseases and viruses, sometimes just feet away from where they slept, according to a statement.
“Many families have no choice but to drink disease-laden water,” she said, adding, “Wherever we go, we see hopelessness and hopelessness growing.”