Water everywhere, but not a (safe) drop to drink
Months after the heaviest monsoon rains for over 100 years fell on southern Pakistan, the flood water is still not receding – leaving the rural populations in dire need of access to safe drinking water and appropriate sanitation.
At certain points of the landscape, the flooded areas of South Sindh province at the tail end of Pakistan are actually quite beautiful. Great swathes of water span to the horizon peppered with a vast array of water birds, and only interrupted by tilted electric poles and trees. It’s beautiful until you get close and see the froth on the surface of the water, or inhale the smell of millions of liters of stagnant water
The areas of South Sindh where ACTED has been working since September 2011 have now been flooded for months. That is seven months of the local population living surrounded by this water, drinking it, using it for cooking, washing clothes, hand washing and using it as a toilet receptacle. Already containing the debris of the devastation caused by the flood (dead animals, engine oil, food, rotting crops) flood water is ever increasingly toxic.
The 1,200 millimeters of monsoon rain which fell in just a few days late August overwhelmed the capacity of drainage infrastructure built to contain the seasonal average of 200 millimeters. With poor percolation capacity of the soil, and a saturated water table, the water simply has nowhere to go until the summer sun finally evaporates it - local people are estimating this could be as late as April this year.
Urgent and long-term solutions
Given the extremely dire hygiene situation, ACTED is working in 55 flood-affected villages across Southern Sindh to improve access to safe drinking water, as well as hygiene and sanitation practices, with support from the European Commission Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Department. ACTED teams are distributing water purification sachets to ensure that drinking water is treated for safe consumption in the short term. ACTED engineers will also be overseeing the rehabilitation or construction of community handpumps – which will provide affected communities with access to safe water for the long term. Handwashing and clothes washing stations will also be constructed adjacent to the handpumps – these pumped washing stations will benefit local women, who will have to travel less distance to access water for cooking and cleaning.
Ameenat is a 50-year-old widow from one of the target villages in Umerkot District. Since her home and all her possessions were destroyed by the flooding last year, Ameenat has been living with her only son in an emergency shelter provided by ACTED. The only source of clean water in the surrounding area is a handpump over one kilometer away. However, even the underground source of the handpump has been contaminated by the flooding, and the water now has an unpleasant taste and smell, and may cause waterborne diseases if consumed. Despite this, the surrounding communities have no alternative other than the stagnant flood water in the fields. Ameenat is greatly looking forward to the installation of a new handpump closer to her home, both for drinking water and so that she has a clean water source for clothes and dish washing.
In addition to ensuring people have access to safe water for drinking and washing, ACTED is also constructing latrines in each village to discourage defecation into flood water which is causing further contamination, as well as outbreaks of water-related diseases such as acute watery diarrhea and skin infections. Latrine usage is not common in these areas, but the stagnant flood waters make changing habits all the more urgent. ACTED hygiene promoters are active in each village to train rural villagers on good hygiene practices – an education which is useful now, as well as for the future. During these communal sessions targeting men and women separately, topics such as handwashing, use of latrines and water filtration are discussed at length in order to improve community practices and reduce the incidence of diseases.