Call for more disaster risk reduction in Pakistan
Malteser International expert: “Mobile phones can save lives”
Cologne/Islamabad. With a call for an enlargement of disaster risk reduction in Pakistan and with a further extension of their relief measures Malteser International, the worldwide relief service of the Order of Malta for humanitarian aid, reacts to the insufficient basic health care for the people after the flooding. “The floodwaters are receding, but Pakistan remains a highly endangered country”, Dr. Juergen Clemens, Malteser International Senior Desk Officer Pakistan, points out. The geographer is looking ahead: “Five years ago Pakistan was hit by a severe earthquake; in 2007, people suffered from the floods in South Pakistan; this year, we have the flooding all over the country: Pakistan is a country which is extremely threatened by natural phenomena”, Clemens explains. Therefore, Pakistan should become a good example for disaster risk reduction. ”We must do our utmost in order to prevent that a future disaster will cause misery for millions of people. We can only be grateful that the floods did not claim more human lives”, the expert resumes.
According to Clemens who has been concentrating on Pakistan for about 20 years, in five years the country could prevent many casualties in case of a similar disaster. According to present figures, 1,700 people lost their lives, at least ten million people are without shelter, and 20 million persons in total are affected by the flooding. Disaster preparedness could significantly be improved by simple means. Similar to the positive experience of Malteser International in India, alerting on the water levels alongside the Indus could prevent people from drowning and from losing all their belongings. Mobile phones which are wide-spread despite poverty offer new possibilities to protect people from dangers. “By mobile phones, manual sirens and by word-of-mouth people can inform each other very quickly from the north to the south about the water levels and the speed of the river”, Clemens explains. The people then have the possibility to save their most important belongings and go to evacuation centres that have been identified before. Water hand pumps must be installed at raised platforms in order to protect them against being contaminated by dirty surface water. Especially efficient: hygiene education. “Each year, a Malteser International hygiene counsellor can inform about 15,000 to 20,000 people how they can protect themselves against diarrhoea or other infections.” The floods and the spread of germs had led to a high number of life-threatening infections with diarrhoea. Malteser International’s extension of relief measures comprises three additional medical teams in Punjab headed by an Italian medical doctor. In total, ten medical teams of Malteser International are now active in the Swat Valley, in Kohistan and in Punjab. They are providing for an early diagnosis and treatment of diseases. By means of health education and information campaign they concentrate on women and mothers in order to ensure an improved protection for them and their children against insufficient hygiene and sicknesses. In addition, three water treatment plants are being installed in Punjab. They will provide the health facilities and the population nearby with clean drinking water. A water engineer will support structural improvements. He will take care of a more consistent construction of water pumps, wells and water pipes and give instructions for building latrines at schools. After the floods, it is now high time for sowing. In the north, sowing must be done in October; otherwise, the next crop will drop out. In the south, many perennial plants like sugar cane or cotton were destroyed to a large extent. People will suffer from this destruction for a long time. “That is why the people in Pakistan will continuously need our support”, Clemens emphasises.