Pakistan floods: Your donations at work

Emergencies article written on the 01 Oct 2010

Oxfam staff member Jane Beesley reports from the field about our hygeine kit program in Pakistan, and why one of the first things we distribute in an emergency is the simple, incredibly effective bar of soap.

As the devastating floods sweep through Pakistan people have little time to save themselves and their children, never mind household items or the basics for daily life.

“The water came very fast,” says Raiza, the mother of two young children. “We could only save our children, ourselves and some clothes … we didn’t even have time to save some crockery and other things.” Now Raiza is worried about the health of Arbeli, 4, and Nadia, 1. After talking about the future she tells us about what they need now: “We need soap to wash our clothes. The children’s clothes get very dirty and there are a lot of flies here … every day there are lots of flies and they keep landing on the children – I’m worried about their health.”

Around the increasing number of camps are people reporting the amount of sickness there is, especially diarrhoea. “The children have a lot of skin diseases due to the water, fever and diarrhoea,” says Shahul, whose family of nine has been living in a Sindh province camp for a month.

All the parents express concern about their children and the problems they have in trying to stay clean.

One of the first things they ask for is soap.

Oxfam is distributing hygiene kits to more than 57,000 families (benefiting around 400,000 people) in Sindh province. A day before the team distributes the kits they register those living in the camps and issue them with tokens, which are handed over for the hygiene kits. This ensures that the right people, those who have been affected by the floods, get the kits.

“I’m washing [pots and pans] with water and ash at the moment because we don’t have soap,” says Sakina, who is living in a tented camp in Khairpur. “I’d prefer to use soap … it’s better for cleaning, but when we left our homes we didn’t have time to pack many things – a few pots. We don’t even have soap to wash our clothes. It’s hard to keep things clean, so I’m pleased that we will be getting soap and these other things from Oxfam.”

Each hygiene kit contains fifteen bars of soap for personal use and several bars of soap for washing clothes.

So if you ever wondered why Oxfam, in all this devastation, is giving out soap, maybe this will explain why:

“Hand washing with soap is among the most effective and inexpensive ways to prevent diarrhoeal diseases and pneumonia, which together are responsible for the deaths of over 3.5m children under the age of 5 every year. On current evidence, washing hands with soap can reduce the risk of diarrhoeal diseases by 42- 47% and interventions to promote hand washing might save a million lives.”

In an emergency simple bars of soap for washing hands, bathing and washing clothes keep people healthy and help restore dignity.