Najma's ordeal: surviving the floods in southwest Pakistan
By Antonia Paradela
SINDH PROVINCE, Pakistan, 10 July 2007 – The first thing that Najma remembers from the night of the floods was a voice shouting in panic: “Water, water!” It was midnight when the 14-year-old and her five siblings stumbled through the darkness and finally managed to reach the main road.
“I was terrified,” she says. “My father was sick and we had to drag him into safety. We have lost everything.”
Najma’s life had been peaceful and secure up to that moment. But everything changed late last month, when the floodwaters ravaged her village in the Kamber District of Sindh Province, bordering Balochistan, another province hit hard by the disaster.
Homes and belongings lost
In Najma’s village, almost every family was affected by the recent cyclone floods – the first in the area in 30 years. Many villagers lost their homes and belongings, and are now seeking refuge in basic shelters on the high ground.
Najma’s family saw their cattle drowned and their rice crops ruined. They sleep on the road under a neighbour’s tractor.
Across the floodwaters, which have yet to recede, Najma can still see her village. But the mud walls of her home are slowly collapsing before her eyes.
Vulnerable children and women
According to the latest government estimates, some 160,000 people have lost their homes and a total of more than 2 million have been affected since Cyclone Yemyin struck southwest Pakistan on 23 June. Balochistan and Sindh, where child mortality and malnutrition rates were high even before the disaster, are the worst-affected provinces.
UNICEF and its partners are working to ensure that children, who account for half of the total affected population, have access to food, water and protection from abuse or exploitation.
Najma and her family still have access to the village well. She fetches water every day and carries the heavy container on her head, back to their shelter. For hundreds of other displaced families, however, access to safe water is limited and cases of diarrhoea are on the rise among children.
Emergency relief and immunization
Khan Zadi, 40, a mother of four in the flood zone, had been struggling since her husband abandoned the family. Now the floods have inflicted yet more hardship.
Although they all survived the floods, Ms. Zadi had to send three of her children – the eldest 12 years of age and the youngest only 4 – to a nearby town to stay with relatives. She has had no contact with them since they were separated. Her 10-month-old baby Amis, who remains with her, is suffering from diarrhoea and skin disease.
In collaboration with other UN agencies and partners, UNICEF is leading several crisis-response teams to aid children and families like Ms. Zadi’s. UNICEF staff are focusing on water and sanitation, education, child protection and communication, and are assisting with the health response.
Because of the flood emergency, two of Balochistan’s seven districts have been unable to participate in a nationwide measles campaign supported by UNICEF. The largest-ever vaccination effort in the country aims to reach more than 63 million children by March 2008.
In the phase of the campaign now under way in five districts of Balochistan, more than 600 vaccination teams (composed of nearly 3,200 trained health staff and social mobilization volunteers) are involved in a 17-day drive to reach children in remote rural areas.