The problems caused in Tajikistan by the polio virus have been aggravated by a natural disaster. There have been unusual levels of rain this spring. However, nobody could have predicted that rainfall on the night of May 6th would have brought so much grief to Khatlon Province in the south of the country and to Kulyab, the provincial centre.

The number of deaths from the flooding has already reached 24, with more than 50 people missing and more than 200 injured. In addition to this, more than 500 homes were partially or completely destroyed, more than a thousand animals killed, thousands of hectares of wheat, cotton and vegetable fields were washed away and there was extensive damage to roads, bridges, schools, hospitals and electricity cables.

More than 2000 people are currently living in tent camps. For this agricultural area, where most of the population survives through farming, this natural disaster is a real tragedy.

UNICEF staff members, who were on mission in Khatlon Province during those days to monitor the national immunization campaign against polio, have seen with their own eyes what happened in Kulyab.

“I have never seen rain like that before,” says Salokhiddin Shamsiddinov, Child Protection Programme Assistant for UNICEF Tajikistan a witness to the natural disaster.  “In order to get to the city from Davlatobod village to observe how the immunization was going on, we had to take a detour because of destroyed roads, but the roads in the place that we went to had also been washed out, and so we travelled along a river bed. We saw how rivers were roaring and taking down everything in their paths. It was particularly painful to see what had happened in Kulyab. Many houses were flooded and washed out.”

Given that UNICEF staff were already in the field, they were immediately mobilized to provide support for the emergency relief. First-aid items were sent by UNICEF to Kulyab, and staff supervised its distribution as a first step to the affected families.

Despite the emergency, the UNICEF team continued its work and supported local health care professionals in their campaign to complete the first round of the national immunization campaign.

“I was most struck by the high dedication and commitment of primary health care workers during the polio campaign in the most isolated areas, in very remote villages,”  says Nisso Kasymova, UNICEF’s HIV/AIDS Coordinator.  “During the monitoring we met nurses and their assistants who under heavy rain, in rubber galoshes over bare feet walked around all the houses in the areas isolated by mountains to ensure that the children received their vaccinations on time.  It’s good that Khatlon Province received enough vaccines at the beginning of May — enough for all three rounds — otherwise, after everything that happened, delivery of vaccines would have been difficult.”

Currently, the Government of Tajikistan, along with the international and business communities, is taking measures to help people and often loved ones as well, to regain a place to live and hope in the future after having lost all their property so suddenly. Plans have been laid out to re-house displaced persons in safe districts, to build new houses and to provide the victims with essential supplies.

There is also a UNICEF team in the disaster zone that is cooperating with representatives of other organizations to evaluate the damage caused, and to assess the initial needs of the population, especially the needs of the children.

Despite the disaster, the Ministry of Health of Tajikistan has not altered its plans to carry out second and third rounds of vaccination of children against polio in Khatlon Province. “The only change that will happen during second and third rounds, “ says Sabir Kurbanov, UNICEF Health Specialist, “is that more mobile health teams will carry out vaccinations in Khatlon area now.”

Author: Olga Grebennikova
Olga Grebennikova, a guest contributor to Healthy Travel Blog,  is currently working for UNICEF in Tajikistan to help the country offices with the polio immunization campaign.  After her work there is finished, she will return home to Kyrgyzstan where she is the Media Liaison Office for the UNICEF Country Office.

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