Stagnant Floodwater Raising Health Risk In Kashmir

16 September 2014
Associated Press
Aojaz Hussain and Katy Daigle

Srinagar: Health workers were scrambling Tuesday to manage a mounting health crisis nearly two weeks after massive flooding engulfed much of Kashmir, and were treating cases of diarrhea, skin allergies and fungus while hoping the stagnant waters do not create conditions for more serious disease outbreaks. Countless bloated livestock carcasses were floating across the waterlogged Himalayan region. Many residents, warned to avoid the floodwaters, were rationing water bottles brought by aid workers every few days. 'The chance of cholera, jaundice and leptospirosis spreading are high,' said Dr. Swati Jha with the aid group Americares. 'The most essential need right now is that of clean water.' The scale of the disaster - described as an 'unprecedented catastrophe' by the region's top elected official - has stunned many in India, with newspapers running daily front-page aerial photos of rooftops framed by mud-brown waters. Most hospitals have been inundated, their diagnostic equipment, CT scanners, operation theaters and ventilators destroyed. 'With our health infrastructure lost, any disease can be catastrophic now. You don't need any plague for mass deaths,' said critical care specialist Dr. Javaid Naqashbandi while scribbling out a prescription for treatment of stomach illness on the patient's hand. Both sides of the Himalayan region of Kashmir, divided between India and Pakistan, have seen extreme devastation, with hundreds of thousands of families losing all their possessions. In Indian Kashmir, more than 200 people were killed and another 287,000 were evacuated after homes, shops and other buildings filled to their rooftops almost two weeks ago. In Pakistan, where flooding hit more than 3,000 villages in both the Kashmir and Punjab regions, at least 328 people have died and 505,254 have been rescued. New flooding overnight inundated several more villages in Pakistan's eastern Punjab province, and the floodwaters were moving toward the southern Sindh province. 'The rescue and relief efforts are continuing and in full swing,' the country's National Disaster Management Authority said in a statement, assuring that food, tents and blankets were being distributed. But many flood victims complained they were still waiting for help. Pakistani news channels showed images Tuesday of police swinging batons as hundreds of flood-affected people attacked trucks and snatched food in the Jhang district of Punjab. Pakistani doctors have treated at least 123,020 patients in flood-hit areas. India was rushing in more health workers, sewage pumps, water filters, water purifying tablets and 30 generators to electrify relief camps and field hospitals. Six medical camps and 80 medical teams have already treated more than 53,000 patients, according to the army, which has 30,000 troops on the ground. Aid workers have treated thousands more. But doctors said the need was vast - and urgent - though they said the cooler mountain temperatures were helping to slow any disease spread. At least 80 percent of the main city of Srinagar remained under more than 3-4 meters (9-12 feet) of water Tuesday, with most residents staying in shelters or with relatives on higher ground. As waters began to recede from a few areas, emergency workers started pumping out standing water. But they said it would take several months to remove all the water and clear the debris. Many structures could be in danger of collapse.