Heavy monsoon rain in southern Pakistan is in many ways hitting children worst of all, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which says five million people are affected.
The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says children are among the most vulnerable in the kind of situation that prevails now in Sindh Province: “Up to 2.5 million children have been affected by severe monsoon floods in southern Pakistan – and with many still recovering from the worst floods in the country’s history just a year ago, UNICEF says more help must reach them fast before the situation worsens.”
Local media quoted disaster management authorities in Sindh as saying at least 270 people have been killed in the province’s 23 districts. The provincial government, which has called on international agencies to help, says 1.2 million homes have been washed away, while the aid agency Oxfam has reported that more than 4.2 million acres of land (1,699,680 hectares) has been flooded and 1.59 million acres (643,450 hectares) of standing crops destroyed in Sindh. It also warned the “situation could worsen” over the coming days.
“The nature of this disaster in some ways poses challenges that are more complex than those of 2010,” Kristen Elsby, a spokesperson for UNICEF, told IRIN from Islamabad. She said the main factor in this was that displaced populations were scattered, with many based along roadsides.
“We did not know where to go when the rains swept in, took away our goats and destroyed the vegetable crop we had cultivated,” said Azrah Bibi from Badin District. She and her extended family of eight are currently camped along a roadside near the town of Badin. “We saw some people here and joined them. Some people delivered one lot of food, but there has been very little since, and it is hard to cook anyway since we have no facilities other than a fire from bits of timber and scrap,” she said.
Children, in particular, need access to clean water and also sanitation to prevent illness from breaking out
Like many others affected by this year’s flood, Azrah Bibi and her husband, Gulab Din, 45, were also affected by the floods of 2010, widely rated as the worst in the country’s history, which partially damaged their home and also their rice crop. “This year things seem equally bad to me. The wrath of Allah has hit us twice,” she said.
Water, sanitation risk for children
UNICEF’s Elsby told IRIN that in some areas people had indeed been affected before they could recover from the previous disaster. “Children, in particular, need access to clean water and also sanitation to prevent illness from breaking out,” she said. UNICEF is now providing water in tankers to people camped along roadsides and working with the World Food Programme to offer food. “At a later stage we will need to meet educational needs since over 1,000 schools are currently being used as shelters,” she said.
“The situation in the flood zone is really bad. People need much more help and things are especially miserable for women and children who lack privacy, toilet facilities and other amenities,” Muhammad Khalid, a volunteer with the charitable Edhi Foundation, told IRIN from Khairpur District in Sindh.
As awareness of the scale of the calamity spreads, other agencies are moving in. “Children living in Sindh were already very weak and vulnerable following last year’s floods, and rates of malnutrition are high,” said Faris Kasim, spokesperson for Save the Children, US, in Pakistan.
“Now thousands of children are again having to survive in the cold, at risk of disease and facing an even tougher struggle to get the food they need. It’s crucial we provide life-saving supplies to the affected population as fast as possible to make sure children have shelter and are protected from life-threatening disease.”
But for now, the struggle is a tough one, and recovery will take time, with the Meteorological Office predicting more heavy rain over the coming week in Sindh and elsewhere, threatening to aggravate an already critical situation.