Pakistan Floods: 3.5 Million Children at Risk from Deadly Diseases, says UN

Shortage of clean water raises health fears as fresh protests erupt over slow delivery of aid

The UN said Monday that 3.5 million children in Pakistan are at risk from deadly waterborne diseases, as fresh protests erupted over the slow delivery of aid in the flood-ravaged country.

The warning comes two days after the UN reported the first case of cholera and its secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, urged the world to speed up aid efforts to tackle what he said was the worst natural disaster he had ever seen.

The UN has appealed for an initial PS295m to provide relief, but only 25% of that has so far been given.

Maurizio Giuliano, a spokesman for the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told the AFP news agency: "Up to 3.5 million children are at high risk of deadly waterborne diseases, such as watery diarrhoea and dysentery. Water during the flood has been contaminated badly. There is a shortage of clean water."

Delays in aid delivery and the continuing threat of further floods have resulted in widespread public anger that could bring political trouble for an unpopular government overwhelmed by the disaster, which has disrupted the lives of at least one-tenth of Pakistan's 170 million people.

Hundreds of villages across Pakistan in an area roughly the size of Italy have been marooned, roads have been cut in half and thousands of homeless people have been forced to set up tarpaulin tents along the side of roads.

Dozens of men and a few women tried to block five lanes of traffic outside Sukkur, in the southern province of Sindh, today. Villagers set fire to straw and threatened approaching motorists with sticks.

"We left our homes with nothing and now we're here with no clothes, no food and our children are living beside the road," said one protester, Gul Hasan.

Last night, hundreds of villagers in the Punjab, the country's most populous and worst-hit province, burned tyres and chanted "down with the government". "We are dying of hunger here. No one has showed up to comfort us," said Hafiz Shabbir, a protester in Kot Addu.

Neva Khan, Oxfam's country director in Pakistan, said: "The speed with which the situation is deteriorating is frightening. Communities desperately need clean water, latrines and hygiene supplies, but the resources currently available cover only a fraction of what is required."

A brief respite in rain has been forecast today. Water levels in the Indus river feeding Pakistan's plains have fallen in the Punjab, although floodwaters could stay high where embankments were breached and flooding could worsen in Sindh province.

"In Punjab, the water level in the river is falling and in the next 4-5 days ... there will be scattered rains, but they are not flood-producing," Qamar-uz-Zaman Chaudhry, director general of the meteorological department, told Reuters.

Despite a possible break in heavy rains, many families had little hope of returning to their homes. "We only hear that the water is receding but there is still more and more water in our village," said Mansha Bozdar, 45, whose village borders the town of Sanawan, in southern Punjab. "It seems if it will never stop."

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