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UNHCR teams mobilize to limit disease outbreak in camps

News Stories, 11 November 2005

© UNHCR/B.Baloch
A mobile team digs an area for latrines at Ghazi Kot camp, as aid agencies try to limit the spread of diseases.

GHAZI KOT CAMP, Pakistan, November 11 (UNHCR) Responding to an outbreak of diarrhoea in Pakistan's earthquake-hit north, the UN refugee agency has deployed mobile teams to fix water- and sanitation-related problems in relief camps that have sprung up across the affected areas.

"Camps and makeshift shelters take people out of their natural living environment and can be very stressful," said UNHCR's Michael Zwack, who heads the UN's camp management cluster. "In crowded conditions and with few basic services, health problems can easily arise. We are trying to reach as many camps as possible to prevent the outbreak of diseases."

In organized camps in Balakot and Batagram, UNICEF and non-governmental agencies Oxfam and the Taraque Foundation have already set up water points, latrines and bathrooms. But hygiene standards are harder to ensure in hundreds of makeshift camps scattered across the remote mountainous region.

Efforts continue to map these spontaneous camps and identify their most pressing problems, including the need for clean drinking water, latrines and decongestion.

UNHCR and UNICEF are sending staff to show the Pakistan army, NGOs and the residents themselves how to decongest the camps and clean them up. "It's a simple, hands-on approach," said site planner Melesse Tegegne. "We cover site planning and camp management to ensure there's enough space between tents, and that latrines are not too close to the tents or water points so as to avoid contamination."

Major Ashad Ali, a Pakistan army official overseeing the new Ghazi Kot camp near Mansehra, said, "We've requested UNHCR to come and advise us on the technical aspects of camp management and on operational issues like services. We're not moving people in until all the services are functioning, even on minimum basis."

Responding to the request, a UNHCR mobile team on Friday went shopping for wooden panels and other materials to set up latrines at the camp. By the end of the day, eight emergency latrines were ready at Ghazi Kot. Swiss NGO Terres des Hommes will take over longer-term construction while UNICEF will provide drinking water. Another 100 UNHCR tents are on their way to supplement the 98 already pitched in the camp.

The UNHCR team, which consists of 12 plumbers, carpenters, masons and electricians, is one of 20 quick-impact teams planned in the Mansehra, Muzaffarabad and Bagh areas. They will be supported by 12 camp management teams to sensitize people on hygiene and protection issues.

The refugee agency needs $18 million by the end of this month to fund its activities, including running the mobile teams, and to keep up the pace of aid delivery to affected areas. It has so far received only $6.8 million in cash and pledges.

By late Friday afternoon, the joint UNHCR/NATO airlift out of Turkey's Incirlik airbase had transported a total of more than 1,060 tonnes of UNHCR relief items on 83 separate sorties. Hundreds more tonnes have also been brought in by air from Dubai and Jordan and overland from Afghanistan and Iran.

By Babar Baloch in Ghazi Kot camp, Pakistan
with Vivian Tan in Islamabad

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UNHCR country pages

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene

Provision of clean water and sanitation services to refugees is of special importance.

Public Health

The health of refugees and other displaced people is a priority for UNHCR.

Health crisis in South Sudan

There are roughly 105,000 refugees in South Sudan's Maban County. Many are at serious health risk. UNHCR and its partners are working vigorously to prevent and contain the outbreak of malaria and several water-borne diseases.

Most of the refugees, especially children and the elderly, arrived at the camps in a weakened condition. The on-going rains tend to make things worse, as puddles become incubation areas for malaria-bearing mosquitoes. Moderately malnourished children and elderly can easily become severely malnourished if they catch so much as a cold.

The problems are hardest felt in Maban County's Yusuf Batil camp, where as many as 15 per cent of the children under 5 are severely malnourished.

UNHCR and its partners are doing everything possible to prevent and combat illness. In Yusuf Batil camp, 200 community health workers go from home to home looking educating refugees about basic hygene such as hand washing and identifying ill people as they go. Such nutritional foods as Plumpy'nut are being supplied to children who need them. A hospital dedicated to the treatment of cholera has been established. Mosquito nets have been distributed throughout the camps in order to prevent malaria.

Health crisis in South Sudan

Pakistan Earthquake: A Race Against the Weather

With winter fast approaching and well over a million people reported homeless in quake-stricken Pakistan, UNHCR and its partners are speeding up the delivery and distribution of hundreds of tonnes of tents, blankets and other relief supplies from around the world.

In all, the NATO-UNHCR airlift, which began on 19 October, will deliver a total of 860 tonnes of supplies from our stockpiles in Iskenderun, Turkey. Separately, by 25 October, UNHCR-chartered aircraft had so far delivered 14 planeloads of supplies to Pakistan from the agency's stocks in Copenhagen, Dubai and Jordan.

On the ground, UNHCR is continuing to distribute aid supplies in the affected areas to help meet some of the massive needs of an estimated 3 million people.

Pakistan Earthquake: A Race Against the Weather

Pakistan Earthquake: The Initial Response

The UN refugee agency is providing hundreds of tonnes of urgently needed relief supplies for victims in northern Pakistan. UNHCR is sending family tents, hospital tents, plastic sheeting, mattresses, kitchen sets, blankets and other items from its global stockpiles. Within a few days of the earthquake, just as its substantial local stocks were all but exhausted, UNHCR began a series of major airlifts from its warehouses around the world, including those in Denmark, Dubai, Jordan and Turkey.

UNHCR does not normally respond to natural disasters, but it quickly joined the UN humanitarian effort because of the sheer scale of the destruction, because the quake affected thousands of Afghan refugees, and because the agency has been operational in Pakistan for more than two decades. North West Frontier Province (NWFP), one of the regions most severely affected by the quake, hosts 887,000 Afghan refugees in camps.

While refugees remain the main focus of UNHCR's concern, the agency is integrated into the coordinated UN emergency response to help quake victims.

Pakistan Earthquake: The Initial Response

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