Pakistan confronts mental health crisis among survivors of deadly floods

Pakistan confronts mental health crisis among survivors of deadly floods
A psychiatrist examines a patient at the Civil Hospital Mirpurkhas in southern Pakistan on Oct. 3, 2022. (AN Photo)
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Updated 08 October 2022

Pakistan confronts mental health crisis among survivors of deadly floods

Pakistan confronts mental health crisis among survivors of deadly floods
  • Over 2,000 people came to Civil Hospital Mirpurkhas in Sindh between June and September seeking psychiatric treatment
  • Trauma cases rise by at least 10 percent over the past four months, according to data from the facility and doctors’ testimonies

MIRPURKHAS, Pakistan: Nasir Khan, a 40-year-old laborer from the southern Pakistani district of Mirpurkhas, Sindh province, stood outside the Civil Hospital last week, complaining of anxiety, and feelings of sadness and hopelessness.

In August, Khan’s home and livestock were washed away in deadly floods that have affected at least 33 million people in Pakistan since mid-June and killed almost 1,700.

The father of four has since been living with his family at a relief camp in Sindh, the province worst hit by the floods, where water and vector-borne diseases are now rampant and a return to normality is months, if not years, away.

Last year, the Institute of Global Health Innovation at Imperial College London said that intensifying climate change impacts, from fiercer heatwaves to flooded homes, were driving a growing mental health crisis around the world.

“Before the floods, I did not have any psychiatric issues,” Khan told Arab News, describing sleepless nights spent swatting mosquitoes and days with little food. “Now, I feel scared for my and my family’s future.”

Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s minister for climate change, has highlighted the need for urgent medical supplies to protect against fast-spreading water-borne diseases due to stagnant water, urging the developed world to accelerate funding for a disaster that she said has no parallel in known history.

But little to no attention is being paid to the psychological toll of the catastrophe.

Already, the damage from the floods is reflected in a jump in the number of people reporting mental health problems. Over 2,000 people came to the Civil Hospital Mirpurkhas between June and September this year to seek psychiatric treatment, at least a 10 percent increase from the past four months, according to data from the facility.

“At Civil Hospital Mirpurkhas, the number of patients coming to the psychiatric outpatient department has increased by 10 percent as compared to the average number of patients in the previous four months,” Dr. Lakesh Khatri, the district psychiatrist, told Arab News.

“The increased number of cases are flood-affected people who have faced trauma due to the widespread devastation.”

Mental health patients, most of them male, were also arriving at the hospital from the nearby Sanghar and Umerkot districts, Khatri added.  Diagnosed mental health problems were caused by financial stress, as well as a lost sense of security.

The Sindh Mental Health Authority said the surge in mental health cases was mostly due to uncertain and deteriorating socioeconomic conditions in the wake of the floods.

It would take months, according to the body, to quantify the exact damage to mental health in the province, where over 750 people have been killed, 2 million homes damaged and 435,000 livestock lost.

Officials say more than 2 million acres of agricultural land have been flooded countrywide, destroying most standing crops and preventing farmers from sowing new ones.

“This monsoon and floods affected farming communities’ dual crops, standing and upcoming. It also washed away their houses and uprooted them,” SMHA Chairman Dr. Karim Ahmed Khawaja told Arab News last week.

“At this stage quantifying the number of mental health patients related to Sindh flood devastation is difficult and the SMHA will conduct a study after the floodwaters recede close to the end of the year.”

Stagnant floodwater in agricultural fields means a large number of farmers are likely to miss the coming winter cultivation season, Khawaja said.

With the next cultivation season beginning in March 2023, many farmers will have no livelihood for at least the next six months, a worry that is triggering mental health problems.

Referring to a 2020 mental health study in Sindh focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, Khawaja said the prevalence of depression was assessed at 42 percent, while 85 percent of the 1,494 people surveyed had anxiety.

Among the participants, 10 percent were reported to have received a psychiatric diagnosis.

“Since the COVID pandemic is still continuing and so are its impacts, the devastation from floods has added to the mental health impacts (already) present in the society,” the SMHA chairman said.

“Floods have caused depression and anxiety among survivors,” he added. “They find their future bleak because of poor health, economic and livelihood conditions.”

The province also faces a shortage of doctors to deal with the surge in mental health concerns, Khawaja said.

“Sindh has a total of 145 psychiatrists,” he said. “Out of 30 districts in the province, more than 20 districts do not even have a single psychiatrist.”
 

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Spanish twin chefs earn third Michelin star

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BARCELONA: When they were just eight years old, Spanish twins Sergio and Javier Torres set a goal — they wanted to become chefs who were among the top in their field.

To achieve this, they strategically split up to get training in different esteemed kitchens around the world, published books on cooking and presented a popular TV show.

The plan worked.

Over four decades after they surprised their family by saying they wanted to be chefs, Sergio and Javier’s Barcelona restaurant, Cocina Hermanos Torres, was awarded a third Michelin star last month.

“We developed a plan, that I think is a perfect plan,” a smiling Javier, 51, said at the restaurant, one of only 13 in Spain and Portugal with the top three-star ranking from the prestigious French guide.

“When we started to go out of Barcelona, we thought that Sergio would take one path, I would take another, and we would never coincide until we were ready,” he added. The journey took the twins — who grew up in a working-class Barcelona neighborhood — to different elite restaurants in Spain, Switzerland and France.

Before moving to Paris where he worked with top French chef Alain Ducasse, Sergio spent two years at the award-winning Le Jardin des Sens in Montpellier which is also run by twins — Jacques and Laurent Pourcel.

“We were separated but every month we met up in a restaurant, ate well, we spent the little money we had and developed the next steps of our strategy,” said Sergio as he sat beside his brother.

Each brother specialized in different areas — one learned to cook meat and vegetables, the other fish and bread, he added.

Both siblings credit their grandmother for their passion for cooking.

She was part of a wave of people who moved from the southern region of Andalusia to the more industrialized Catalonia in the northeast in search of a better life following Spain’s devastating 1936-39 civil war.

“Our grandmother looked after us, and since she was in the kitchen all day we literally grew up in a kitchen,” said Sergio.

After earning two Michelin stars with their previous project “Dos Cielos” and becoming familiar faces thanks to their participation in a cooking show, they decided to open Cocina Hermanos Torres in 2018.

The twins visited some 200 possible locations before settling on an industrial building near Barcelona’s iconic Camp Nou football stadium.

They invested nearly 3 million euros to convert it into the restaurant, which seats a maximum of 50 people at tables with no wall separating them from the three workstations where staff prepare meals.

“We wanted to reflect what we experienced in our childhood, which was a kitchen and a table, and everyone around the table,” said Javier.


Bangladesh eyes energy, food security cooperation after new GCC deal

Bangladesh eyes energy, food security cooperation after new GCC deal
Updated 6 min 13 sec ago

Bangladesh eyes energy, food security cooperation after new GCC deal

Bangladesh eyes energy, food security cooperation after new GCC deal
  • Bangladesh, GCC signed memorandum establishing framework for cooperation
  • Energy security one of top priorities for Bangladesh amid recent power crisis

DHAKA: Bangladesh is planning to tap into cooperation possibilities with Gulf countries, focusing on energy and food security after a recent agreement on future partnerships with the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Dhaka and the GCC — an intergovernmental economic union of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE — signed a memorandum establishing a framework for cooperation on Nov. 18.

The deal was reached on the sidelines of the Manama Dialogue regional security conference in Bahrain by Bangladeshi Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr. A.K. Abdul Momen and GCC Secretary-General Dr. Nayef bin Falah Al-Hajraf.

“Energy cooperation is one of our topmost priority issues which will be discussed during joint consultation. Besides, boosting political cooperation will also be a priority area,” Iqbal Hussain Khan, director general of West Asia at the Bangladeshi Ministry of Foreign Affairs told Arab News over the weekend.

He added that as Gulf countries had lately been focused on ensuring food security, Bangladesh — a major seafood and vegetable exporter — would also try to identify potential areas of cooperation in that sector.

“We will sit with GCC authorities for detailing the cooperation areas and fixing the road map within the shortest possible time which is mutually convenient for both the parties,” Khan said.

“We have huge potential for boosting cooperation with Gulf countries since nowadays regional organizations are becoming stronger.”

More details and specific proposals are expected to be announced after upcoming talks between Bangladeshi and GCC authorities.

“Let the discussions begin first. Very soon we will contact the GCC to start the first round of discussions,” Khan added.

The cooperation was likely to help Bangladesh with energy security.

Bangladesh, which is dependent on imported liquefied natural gas, has been struggling with an energy crisis for the past couple of months. In early October, some 80 percent of its 168 million people were left without electricity after a grid failure, which occurred when more than one-third of the country’s gas-powered units were short of fuel.

“Energy security is another big area of cooperation for Bangladesh. Through a long-term arrangement, during bilateral trade talks for a preferential trade agreement or free trade agreement, we must include the oil supply issues to be ensured,” Zahid Hussain, former lead economist at the World Bank in Dhaka, told Arab News.

He added that the future cooperation would also benefit Bangladeshi migrant workers — 90 percent of whom live and work in GCC countries.

“In the case of migrant labor exports, cooperation from the GCC nations will be very important. We need to work to reduce the cost of migration as well as increasing workplace safety, job security, and ensuring earning security,” he said.

“In the long run, it will benefit the GCC countries also since they also need migrant workers from this region.”


Former UK foreign minister’s conduct during Afghan withdrawal ‘led to deaths’: Report

Former UK foreign minister’s conduct during Afghan withdrawal ‘led to deaths’: Report
Updated 10 min 22 sec ago

Former UK foreign minister’s conduct during Afghan withdrawal ‘led to deaths’: Report

Former UK foreign minister’s conduct during Afghan withdrawal ‘led to deaths’: Report
  • Dominic Raab was moved to the Justice Ministry in the aftermath of the disastrous evacuation of British troops in 2021
  • Official: ‘One deputy director relayed the extraordinary information that … advice pertaining to the evacuation of Afghanistan had been delayed because (Raab) didn’t like the formatting’

LONDON: Afghans died as a result of the actions of the former UK foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, during the disastrous withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan, a high-level meeting of officials was told, The Guardian reported on Monday.

Raab, who is now the justice secretary and deputy prime minister, faces allegations that his decisions during the withdrawal were partially responsible for the UK’s lackluster evacuation efforts.

According to the report, a meeting called to discuss Raab’s conduct during the 2021 evacuation was told that “people had died” in Afghanistan because the former foreign minister decided not to read crucial new information.

Raab is also facing allegations of bullying behavior towards staff and claims that while foreign minister, he blocked important communications with high-level officials in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. At the time of the withdrawal from Afghanistan, Raab faced significant criticism about his personal conduct when he went on holiday to Greece at the height of the crisis.

An official present at the meeting, which took place on May 6, said: “There was a long discussion to clarify that his behavior stepped over the mark from forthright to unprofessional.

“One deputy director relayed the extraordinary information that, when Raab was at FCDO, people had died when advice pertaining to the evacuation of Afghanistan had been delayed because he didn’t like the formatting.”

The official also alleged that Raab arrived hours late to meetings with high-level staff because he was exercising. The minister also needlessly “snapped at and belittled” staff, the official said.

In separate evidence during an inquiry into Raab’s conduct, former FCDO official Raphael Marshall said that the former foreign minister took “hours to engage” in high priority cases.

As a result, some Afghans who might otherwise have been able to leave the country failed to arrive at Kabul airport in time for flights on British aircraft, he added.

Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy said: “This is yet more evidence that suggests Dominic Raab created a toxic culture at the FCDO that could have put lives on the line during the disastrous evacuation from Afghanistan.”

Raab was moved from his position and given the Justice Ministry portfolio in the wake of the Afghanistan withdrawal. He has consistently denied the allegations against him and has taken partial credit for Britain’s evacuation of almost 17,000 Afghans.


Scholar Ramadan to face Geneva rape trial: prosecutors

Scholar Ramadan to face Geneva rape trial: prosecutors
Updated 05 December 2022

Scholar Ramadan to face Geneva rape trial: prosecutors

Scholar Ramadan to face Geneva rape trial: prosecutors
  • A Swiss national and former professor at Oxford University, Ramadan has faced a string of rape and sexual assault allegations in France and Switzerland since 2017
  • The Swiss investigation has moved slowly, since Ramadan was initially in pre-trial detention in Paris over other rape allegations and could not be questioned

GENEVA: Embattled Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan will go on trial for rape in Geneva next year, over a case dating back more than 14 years, the prosecution said on Monday.
A Swiss national and former professor at Oxford University, Ramadan has faced a string of rape and sexual assault allegations in France and Switzerland since 2017.
The Geneva judiciary said in the current case Ramadan had been charged with rape and sexual coercion, and would be tried before the Geneva criminal court, confirming information first published by Swiss broadcaster RTS.
The accuser in this case, named simply “Brigitte” by Swiss media, has accused the now 60-year-old scholar of brutally attacking her on the evening of October 28, 2008.
The Muslim convert, who had met Ramadan a month earlier during a book signing, accuses him of subjecting her to sexual attacks, beatings and insults in a Geneva hotel room.
She waited a decade before coming forward, filing her complaint in April 2018.
Her lawyer, Francois Zimeray, told AFP his client was fearful as she brought the case.
“She feels no desire for revenge but is relieved and is putting her faith in the institutions,” he said, adding that he expected the trial to take place during the first half of 2023.
Ramadan’s lawyer, Guerric Canonica, meanwhile alleged on Monday that the prosecution had simply “copied the complaint without considering disqualifying elements.”
“It is now up to the judges to re-establish Mr. Ramadan’s complete innocence and we are serenely waiting for our day in court,” he told AFP.
Ramadan, who has previously filed a complaint against Brigitte for slander, is a father of four whose grandfather founded Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.
He was a professor of contemporary Islamic studies at Oxford University until he was forced to take leave when rape allegations surfaced at the height of the “Me Too” movement in 2017.
The Swiss investigation has moved slowly, since Ramadan was initially in pre-trial detention in Paris over other rape allegations and could not be questioned.
After he was released in November 2018, he was put on probation and barred from leaving France.
Swiss prosecutors went to Paris to question him, and once the probation was partially lifted, Ramadan traveled to Geneva for witness hearings in 2020.


Belgian auction house delists Arab, African skulls amid backlash

Belgian auction house delists Arab, African skulls amid backlash
Updated 05 December 2022

Belgian auction house delists Arab, African skulls amid backlash

Belgian auction house delists Arab, African skulls amid backlash
  • Lot included jewel-encrusted skull of Arab chieftain slaver killed in 1893

LONDON: An auction house in Brussels has delisted three African and Arab skulls that were set for bidding following a backlash against the sale, The Times reported on Monday.

Drouot and Vanderkindere listed the three items — including one jewel-encrusted skull of an Arab slaver killed in 1893 — alongside paintings, coats, and other antiques.

The skulls date back to Belgium’s period of colonization in Africa. An estimated 10 million people died as a result of Belgian expansion, with the Congo in particular being subject to widespread violence.

The Arab skull of Munie Mohara, a chieftain slaver, was believed to have been taken as a prize by Belgian steelers following his death.

Earlier this year Belgium passed a law to return looted artifacts to the Congo. A government committee was expected to propose the return of human remains held in the European country.

Following the sale delisting, the auction house said: “We in no way support the suffering and humiliation that people were subjected to during the colonial period. We apologize to anyone who feels hurt by this sale.”

Colonial Memory and the Fight Against Discrimination, a campaign group, filed a complaint over the auction.

The group’s co-coordinator, Genevieve Kaninda, said: “It is as if people are being killed a second time. The colonial violence keeps repeating itself.”