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Feeling the pulse of health, hygiene in Pakistan's quake zone camps

News Stories, 11 August 2006

© UNHCR/M.Pearson
A young girl collects filtered water at a UNHCR-managed camp in Pakistan for survivors of last year's deadly earthquake. The refugee agency has just conducted a community-based sustainable hygiene initiative in eight camps.

MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan, August 11 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency has just completed a community-based programme highlighting the link between camp dwellers and the hygiene environment in the relief camps of Pakistan's earthquake zone.

Dubbed Operation Heartbeat, the two-week sustainable hygiene initiative was launched in Muzaffarabad, the provincial capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, and focused on all eight camps in the surrounding Jehlum Valley housing some 3,400 survivors of last year's devastating earthquake.

The operation aimed to increase public awareness and support in the camps for hygiene care. It did this by mobilising the community and implementing programmes and activities to strengthen each link of the chain.

"We need to see camp dwellers not simply as the beneficiaries of humanitarian aid, but as potential contributors to sustainable development," explained Catherine Harding, UNHCR's community services officer in Muzaffarabad.

"Since the October 8 earthquake, more than half of the curative medical services provided in the quake zone were for diseases linked to poor hygiene and sanitation. Community-based health education, with a particular emphasis on hygiene promotion, is therefore paramount," added Harding.

The campaign in the Jehlum Valley camps was carried out by UNHCR's operational partner, Operation Heartbeat, a United States-based medical relief organisation that had been providing health and hygiene education in areas outside the camps.

Interactive public health modules, tailored for the camp population and addressing hygiene awareness needs in the Jehlum Valley, were designed for the initiative. The modules were designed to cover all age groups and Harding noted that "children expressed themselves through drawings and sketched what they thought was personal hygiene: washing hands, washing teeth."

Hygiene kits provided by the UN Population Fund were distributed to each family. They contained towels, soap, bandages and liquid antiseptic.

To ensure a more long-term, sustainable impact, community representatives were selected from the camp population in the Garhi Dopatta area and trained on health education issues. These focal points are now expected to educate their own communities on hygiene and sanitation.

Since March 2006 when authorities announced that camps would start closing more than 147,012 people have gone home and 100 camps have closed. Some 31,000 people remain in 56 major camps in North-West Frontier Province and Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

Ensuring basic living standards for people in the camps has been one of UNHCR's priorities as the lead agency for camp management under the joint UN response. "The focus now is to ensure that adequate hygiene standards are maintained in camps hosting this residual population," said Kilian Kleinschmidt, head of UNHCR's emergency operations in Pakistan.

In the run-up to Operation Heartbeat, UNHCR had introduced a community-based weekly "clean-up" campaign in the camps. With camp dwellers in the lead, the campaign is still running strong.

The UN refugee agency is currently building the capacity of the authorities and other humanitarian agencies to take over camp management when UNHCR ends its direct involvement at the end of August.

By Fatma Bassiouni in Islamabad, Pakistan

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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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