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Damage to infrastructure hinders aid efforts in Pakistan

While floods still cover vast areas of the southern Sindh province, the waters have receded in the provinces of Khyber Pukhtunkhwa and Punjab, leaving a trail of destruction. At a time when access to medical attention is a matter of life and death, with over 70,000 cases of acute watery diarrhoea already reported, the World Health Organisation estimates one fifth of Pakistan’s health facilities have been damaged.

Hospitals are also warning that the limited resources for treating patients are running out, when the number of patients is expected to increase. One doctor in the main district hospital of the Punjab province says that 60 per cent of his patients are suffering from gastroenteritis and diarrhoea, as well as skin and eye infections and most arrive “in a pretty bad condition”. With epidemics surfacing between four to six weeks after disasters, he fears the worst is yet to come. The young are most vulnerable; over 3 million children are thought to be at risk of water borne diseases in the flood-affected areas.

In the north west of the country, the slow delivery of aid and medicines is largely a result of the lack of infrastructure. The torrential currents washed away roads and bridges, cutting off many mountainous communities. Here, helicopters are sometimes the only means of reaching those in need and UN officials in the region have appealed for more.

Agencies such as Oxfam International are also calling for more bridges to be reconstructed to help move significant quantities of supplies. A spokesman from the National Disaster Management Agency agreed that “bridges not aid drops” were the priority. And local economies will only start to function again when essential links are made to the outside world. Traders have no business while people are unable to reach them.

In the SWAT valley, half of a huge steel and concrete bridge, known as the Red Bridge, was swept away. The army used whatever materials it could find to build makeshift repairs and ropes and planks have been placed over the broken side. But only a few people can cross at any one time. This means that local people queue in the sweltering heat to bring bags of flour, food and cement across from a market two hours’ walk away. One local man said that “people were literally crying” when they saw the bridge had been damaged in the floods.

The SWAT region, with its stunning scenery, used to be a tourist destination for many Pakistanis before the Taliban gained control of the region. Having suffered doubly from these insurgents and now from the floods, locals can only hope they receive the help required to rebuild bridges and communities. Because to support their families, they need people to return.

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