As flood crisis persists, UNICEF provides health and education aid in southern Pakistan
Ancient necropolis in Thatta becomes temporary home to 450,000 displaced people
By Raabya Amjad
THATTA, Pakistan, 27 September 2010 – Thatta, a town in southern Pakistan’s Sindh province, is one of the areas hardest-hit by the country’s recent floods. It is also home to the famous Makli Hills, a renowned burial place for some 125,000 Sufi saints.
VIDEO: UNICEF's Natasha de Souza reports on a conditions at a camp for people displaced by floods in Thatta, Pakistan.
One of the largest Muslim necropolises in the world – with a diameter of approximately 8 km – the site has become home to communities fleeing the floodwaters that have devastated entire towns in lower Sindh province.
Approximately 450,000 people affected by the floods sought refuge in Makli Hills, and most of them are camping in open spaces. With the government and its humanitarian partners still in the process of organizing the large-scale response to the massive flood crisis, the displaced are in dire circumstances. Food and safe drinking water are in scarce supply.
“We get food here only at night,” said Bhaggi, a mother of eight whose family was displaced from Darro village and moved into the Makli Hills camp. “My children suffer from bad stomach pains and diarrhea,” she added.
Makeshift tent on the grounds of the ancient necropolis where flood victims are taking shelter in Thatta, located in southern Pakistan's Sindh province.
Millions at risk
According to the most recent estimates, some 1.65 million people in Pakistan are living in converted school-shelters. Many more are in other types of temporary housing. There is an urgent need for shelter and serious concerns about malnutrition among women and children.
Up to 20 per cent of the affected population that has sought medical services is suffering from diarrhoea, acute respiratory infection and other diseases. And with stagnant floodwaters all around, malaria is now on the rise.
Government sources have confirmed nearly 200 deaths and another 1,100 injuries from the flooding in Sindh province alone. Officials warn that millions are at risk from food shortages and disease.
Shehzadi, a mother of three, was eight months pregnant when she was displaced from her village of Bela. A local Islamic group placed her in the relief camp, but there were no female doctors there to consult for checkups.
Displaced community camped on a bund near Sujawal breach in Thatta, Sindh province, Pakistan.
Government mobile medical clinics, supported by UNICEF, made the rounds at camps and alerted the camp infirmary about pregnant women who were scheduled for delivery imminently. Once the women are in labour, they are transferred to the camp with the main facility for maternal and neo-natal health care and medically supervised delivery. More complicated cases are referred to the district hospital.
In other parts of Sindh where relief efforts have been under way since the first days of the floods in mid-August, UNICEF is one of several agencies delivering much-needed emergency relief – including immunization, sanitation, mobile health teams and safe drinking water.
However many communities remain cut off from aid, and their residents still have only contaminated water to drink, with some travelling for miles to bring back water for their families.
Need to scale up assistance
“We don’t want our babies to die, and we want our children to go to school,” said Nasreen, a flood victim from Sujawal, Sindh province.
Nasreen Bibi sitting under a makeshift tent shelter in Thatta, southern Pakistan.
She explained that it took eight years to convince the local maulvi, or religious preacher, to permit a single girl to attend school in her conservative village. More recently, however – before the current crisis began – more than 30 girls were studying there. Sadly, the floods have halted much of the progress made to date.
With UNICEF’s help, the Government of Pakistan has set up temporary learning and recreation centres in flood-relief camps to provide children with interim learning opportunities. Some 450 such centres have been established so far, benefitting approximately 38,000 children.
Government sources in Thatta estimate the number of people affected in the district at around 900,000, with about 260,000 displaced and residing in government-supported relief camps. There is a dire need to scale up the relief efforts and to put plans in place for early recovery. UNICEF, other UN agencies and their partners have requested that donors convert their pledges and commitments into actual funding to effectively respond to the needs of the affected communities.