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Pakistan braced for flood diseases

Pakistan is bracing itself for countrywide outbreaks of disease after the weeks of flooding damaged hospitals and clinics and turned tens of thousands of medical workers into refugees.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani warned of the new danger as the country's chief meteorologist said it would be two weeks until the Indus River returns to normal levels.

Qamar-uz-Zaman Chaudhry said high tides in the Arabian Sea would slow the river's drainage into it.

"The flood situation is not yet over," he said, adding that the river would reach peak flood stage late this week.

The floods, which began nearly a month ago with hammering monsoon rains in the north-west, have affected more than 17 million people, the UN estimates. Millions have been left homeless as the floods have swept southwards, submerging millions of acres of farmland.

Most of the 1,500 deaths occurred early in the flooding, but the crisis still is growing.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that about 700,000 Pakistanis have been forced into makeshift settlements just in the southern province of Sindh.

While there have been no major disease outbreaks because of the floods, aid agencies are increasingly worried, saying contaminated water and a lack of proper sanitation were already causing a spike in medical problems in camps for the displaced.

"Pakistan and its people are experiencing the worst natural calamity of its history," Mr Gilani said at a meeting on health issues in the flood zone. "As human misery continues to mount, we are seriously concerned with spread of epidemic diseases."

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