UN agencies and NGOs such as Islamic Relief and Relief International report that many of the persons now living in tent encampments, or squatting in abandoned buildings, or crowded into schools designated as refugee centers, may soon start dying from preventable disease.
Health teams note increasingly frequent cases of diarrhea, scabies and malaria, all deadly in these circumstances, especially for young children. With so many people living so close to each other, these diseases are spreading fast.
Relief groups are concerned that as the monsoon season approaches, in July, these problems will get considerably worse. Monsoons bring regional floods and cause escalating rates of malaria and waterborne diseases. The impact, this year, is expected to be much more severe because so many people are living in crowded and unsanitary conditions.
Pakistan’s already rundown health care system, officials report, is now near collapse. Hospitals in northern Pakistan have been overwhelmed, with exhausted doctors, depleted medicine supplies and avalanches of red tape blocking money and medicine for the crisis.
Writing for the Associated Press on June 7th, Kathy Gannon described the men’s ward in the Mardan District Hospital: “30 steel beds lie crammed together, with two-inch mattresses and no pillows. Pools of urine spread on the floor, and fresh blood stains the ripped bedding…The one bathroom for 30 patients stinks of urine and faeces. The toilets are overflowing, the door to one cement cubicle is falling off and a two-inch river of urine covers the cement floor. In one corner, garbage is piled high.”
The annual budget for health care in Pakistan, this year, is less than $150 million, while Pakistan’s defense budget last year came to $3.45 billion, and is expected to reach $3.65 billion next year.
People in Shah Mansoor worry that the international community as well as their own government won’t notice the health care crisis they face. But villagers yet to flee their homes in Waziristan agonize under constant military scrutiny from lethally-armed U.S. surveillance drones.
A villager who survived a drone attack in North Waziristan explained that even the children, at play, were acutely conscious of drones flying overhead. After a drone attack, survivors trying to bring injured victims to a hospital were dumbfounded when a driver stopped, learned of their plight and then sped away. Then it dawned on them that the driver was afraid the drone would still be prowling overhead and that he might be targeted for associating with victims of the attack.
The U.S. drone aircraft can see Pakistan - their pilots in air-conditioned Nevada trailers see the terrain even though they are physically thousands of miles away.
Writing about U.S. Air Force efforts to “meet the voracious need for unmanned aircraft surveillance in combat zones,” Grace Jean notes, in the June, 2009 issue of National Defense Magazine, that the Air Force’s 432nd Air Expeditionary Wing, at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, is expanding base operations.