Crisis far from over for children
More than four months after the worst floods in the country’s history, Unicef warns that winter will worsen the threats against children who already suffer high rates of acute respiratory infections and malnutrition.
New polio cases are spreading rapidly with 126 this year compared to 89 in 2009 -- an enormous cause for concern, especially as Pakistan had made significant strides towards eradicating polio. Pakistan is one of the four polio endemic countries in the world and low ongoing coverage in areas experiencing difficult security in the north, overcrowding and poor sanitation as a result of the floods have exacerbated the threat for children.
“This crisis is far from over. It has just evolved in very different ways from one part of Pakistan to the next and the humanitarian effort has had to adapt swiftly to reach children and women most in need as their needs change,” said Unicef’s Regional Director for South Asia Daniel Toole. “Although most people have returned to their home areas, many have returned to near total destruction -- with no homes, no crops, no food and no cash. In the north, snow has fallen and we are delivering winter clothes and supplies to help families prepare for a harsh winter, while in the south very slow receding waters have meant over a million lives are still on hold. The coming cold months will sharply increase the numbers of respiratory infections and malnutrition, two of the biggest killers of Pakistani children.”
One-fifth of Pakistan’s land area was ravaged by the monsoon floods that affected 20.3 million people. Some 10,000 schools and rural health centres were damaged by the floods and important infrastructure was destroyed or badly damaged, including water and sanitation systems, bridges and roads.
Since the early stages of the floods, Unicef has been providing clean water to an unprecedented 2.8 million people daily, and sanitation facilities to more than 1.5 million people. Unicef has partnered with WHO and the Government of Pakistan to immunise more than 9 million children against measles and polio. Nutritional supplements have reached nearly 300,000 pregnant women and mothers with young babies as well as malnourished children. Education, through Temporary Learning Centres has been restored for 106,500 children and another 104,400 women and children through Child-Friendly Spaces which aim to protect them from risks of abuse, neglect and exploitation after the floods.
In preparation for winter, Unicef has started to distribute warm children’s clothing and blankets. However, millions of families still need assistance in the form of water, medicine and nutritional supplements to survive the coming months, especially those living in the north of the country as harsh winter conditions approach.
Unicef needs $82.1 million if it is to continue with its life-saving and recovery programmes in Pakistan. In addition, to expand urgently needed support to improve widespread malnutrition and to stop polio spreading, additional urgent funds are required for continued needs in 2011.
“The scale of this remains massive. The impact of the floods in Pakistan will be felt for years to come, so the more we can do now the quicker children and families will recover, and that means urgently needed funds to do our job better,” Toole said.