Last week, panic gripped Balochistan’s southeastern tehsil, Pirkoh in the Dera Bugti area. Six people, including women and very young children, died within hours of being infected with cholera, while over a dozen were rushed to hospitals as their condition deteriorated.
Since April 17, when the first case of cholera was identified in Balochistan, 2,856 cases and six deaths have been reported to date, according to the provincial health department.
Local health sources, however, rubbish the official tally and claim that at least two dozen people are dead due to the disease.
Cholera is an infection caused by ingestion of food or water contaminated with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. Those who get sick experience a rapid loss of water through diarrhoea, vomiting and leg cramps, which can, in severe cases, cause dehydration, a shock to the body and death within hours.
Senator Sarfraz Bugti, who belongs to the Dera Bugti area, recently tweeted that over 20 people, including children, have died due to the cholera epidemic in Pirkoh. He also shared a video of locals in the tehsil protesting the government in the scorching heat.
Residents of Dera Bugti say that the outbreak is caused by a lack of clean drinking water in the area, forcing them to drink dirty water.
Dr Muhammad Azam Bugti, the district health officer in Dera Bugti, told Geo.tv that local people and animals use the same water ponds for drinking, which has become a major cause of the epidemic. Add to that the rising temperatures in the country this year and lack of rain, which has further left people with no other alternative.
“Over 85% of Balochistan’s population is deprived of clean drinking water,” the doctor said, “This at a time when billions of rupees are being allocated every year for water supply schemes in the province.”
For now, a health emergency has been declared in the mountainous region of Pirkoh. Chief Minister Mir Abdul Quddus Bizenjo has directed the department of public health engineering to provide water to Pirkoh on a daily basis through mobile water tanks.
Separately, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has also ordered emergency relief measures.
Still, hospitals are overflowing with patients in need of immediate treatment.
Demonstrations this month were also held in Quetta and other areas of Dera Bugti to demand the government provide clean drinking water on a priority and permanent basis. The protesters said that cholera cases in their areas have been under-reported and the situation is a lot more dire than what is being reported in the media.
In the long run, explain health experts, the provincial government will need to set up a research cell to study the epidemic which has now firmly rooted itself in the province, which is already starved for water.