By Malcolm Brabant
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, 7 February 2011 – Tens of thousands of children who survived last summer’s apocalyptic floods in Pakistan are now at risk from cold and exposure as winter temperatures plummet. Freezing conditions at night are affecting the entire country but are especially severe in the mountainous Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province in north-west Pakistan, where snow has fallen.
|VIDEO: UNICEF's Malcolm Brabant reports on children and families in Pakistan who survived massive floods in 2010 but are at risk from harsh winter conditions. Watch in RealPlayer|
The floods, which began more than six months ago, affected 20 million people and damaged or destroyed more than 2 million homes, laying waste to of over 2 million hectares of crops. Many people displaced by the floods still do not have proper shelter.
To address this situation, UNICEF is sending in essential supplies by helicopter, providing warm clothes, shoes, blankets and newborn kits to the most vulnerable villages in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Road to nowhere
Worsening an already dire scenario is the fact that shifting floodwaters have disturbed previously hidden mines and unexploded ordnance. Tragically, three people – including two children – have been killed by exploding landmines.
|Sadiqa, 9, carries building materials outside her family's flood-damaged home in Waruki Kili village, located in the Tank District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, Pakistan.|
Many of the relief camps, where several hundred thousand displaced people still live, will shortly close as authorities encourage families to return to their areas of origin.
“People are very worried about where they are going to go,” said Shandana Aurangzeb of UNICEF’s field office in Peshawar, “because they don’t have anything to go back to. Their household belongings are gone. Their livelihood is gone.”
Life in a camp
While children living elsewhere in Pakistan’s flood-affected regions do not face such hazards, they are still enduring great hardship, especially in Sindh Province in the south, which was severely affected by the deluge. “Living in a tent is extremely difficult. Waking up in the morning, sleeping at night is very uncomfortable, as it’s very cold,” said Nazira Bashir, 9, from Jan Mohammed Shoro village.
|A boy drinks from a newly installed handpump in the village of Jinnah Colony in Muzaffargarh, one of the most flood-affected districts in Pakistan's Punjab Province.|
Cradling a baby, her mother, Zohra, added: “We need rations, shelter and clothes. We have nothing. Our house and everything in it was washed away. We need everything – everything a human being needs to survive.”
In Khan Pur Jakro tent village in central Sindh, Islam Gulzar, 22, a mother of five, told a similar story. “I’m worried because I’ve no home. This place is cold. My family needs a roof over our heads,” she said.
Providing safe water
One of UNICEF’s main priorities is to provide safe drinking water to flood-affected regions. At the moment, the agency has managed to ensure that more than 3 million people have access to safe water, but a substantial shortfall remains.
|© UNICEF/NYHQ2011-0079/ Noorani|
|Girls write on wooden boards during class at a UNICEF-supported temporary learning centre in Basti Bhaya village, in the flood-ravaged Rajanpur district of Punjab Province, Pakistan.|
At Jharkawala village in southern Punjab, subsistence farmers are anxious about their normal supply, which comes from groundwater not far beneath the surface. The water contains arsenic, which is extremely harmful to humans. UNICEF has provided special handpumps that can reach water supplies 300 feet underground, beyond the arsenic traces.
“We are trying our level best to provide safe drinking water to the affected community,” said Waseem Ul Haq, a UNICEF water specialist based in Multan.
Another facet of daily existence disrupted by the floods has been children’s education, particularly for girls, who are expected to look after their siblings and help with household chores rather than go to school.
The disaster has, however, opened up new learning opportunities for some children from displaced families, who have been able to go to school for the very first time thanks to UNICEF's temporary learning centres. But this taste of education could be short-lived; many children have already returned to communities that have no schools.
Report: Children in Pakistan
Pakistan flood crisis 2010
UNICEF supports transitional schools
Health centres fight malnutrition
Rebuilding a school damaged by floods
Ejaz’s story: After the floods, hope remains
Providing education in flood-hit areas
Supplies amidst harsh winter
Families face increasing challenges
Malnutrition crisis, six months on
Back to school in Swat
Millions brace for winter
Child-friendly centres in north-west
Malnutrition in Pakistan's flood zone