Flood-affected women and children in north-western Pakistan urgently need aid
By: Shandana Aurangzeb
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, 6 August 2010 – “I spent four nights on top of a tree,” says Araba Bibi, 70, a widow from Jala Bela village on the outskirts of Peshawar in north-western Pakistan’s flood-ravaged Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.
The floods have caused widespread destruction here and in other provinces, affecting a total of some 4 million people, according to UN estimates. The government relief agency in Pakistan today issued an even higher figure, stating that at least 12 million people have felt the impact of the disaster so far.
"UNICEF is ramping up its relief operation for the millions of people affected by the flooding in Pakistan,” says UNICEF Representative in Pakistan Martin Mogwanja. “Many of those are children who are especially vulnerable to disease and the present harsh conditions. They need water, medicine, food and shelter urgently.”
‘Nothing is left’
A week ago, when the flood struck and the water level rose to nearly 10 feet, the women and children of Jala Bela were evacuated to higher ground in the middle of the night. Araba Bibi could not run, so men from the village made a bed out of jute high in the branches of a tree and put her there.
“My house is no more. Nothing is left,” she says. “Look at my feet – they are bleeding, as I have no slippers. My clothes are filthy.”
With tears in her eyes, Ms. Bibi explains that her mud house has been destroyed and her belonging are buried in the rubble.
Care and protection
Nearly 80 per cent of the houses in Jala Bela and nearby villages have met the same fate. Families are living in makeshift tents on the side of the road, bearing the brunt of hot weather and intense humidity.
Ajmal, 17, hails from the neighbouring village of Islamabad. “Floodwaters came at 3 a.m.,” he recalls. “All we could do was save ourselves.”
With their home washed away, Ajmal and his six younger siblings are now living in a tent. Their parents, meanwhile, have gone back to the village to try to make living arrangements for the family’s return.
The stories of Ms. Bibi and Ajmal reflect the fact that women and children are the worst affected in the initial phase of an emergency such as the Pakistan flood crisis. Today, millions of women and children in the flood zone need special care and protection.
Damage to communities
Water levels are slowly receding in villages like Jala Bela, which were inundated by the worst floods to hit this country in 80 years. Floodwaters damaged or destroyed 160,000 houses across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province alone.
The impact is painfully visible on the faces of villagers who return from the high ground to see that their homes have been razed.
“Every village on this road has the same story. Nothing is left,” says Iftikhar Ahmad, a former local official. “Our crops, livestock and houses [are gone], there are no food provisions, all water sources are damaged and contaminated, and children are suffering from skin diseases and stomach problems.
“We urgently need tents,” Mr. Ahmad adds in an exhausted tone. “We need clean water and medical services. We are desperate. Please help us to save our children.”
Priority access to aid
Providing safe drinking water to families whose water supply has been damaged by the flood is now crucial to avert potential disease outbreaks among survivors – especially the spread of deadly diarrhoeal diseases in young children. In Jala Bela and surrounding villages, UNICEF’s implementing partner, the non-governmental organization SSD, is distributing safe drinking water and family hygiene kits.
Households headed by women and those with children receive priority access to safe water and other life-saving services.
UNICEF is also supporting the government’s efforts to restore water supply systems in flood-affected areas. So far, around 700,000 people in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province have regained access to safe drinking water through restoration of 91 tube wells and water trucking. Water filters, soap, buckets and jerry cans for carrying water are also being distributed to families in need.
At the same time, UNICEF and partners are disseminating health and hygiene messages for the prevention of waterborne diseases through a mix of channels – including word of mouth, radio, newspapers, leaflets, brochures, banners and mosque announcements.
To meet the immediate water, sanitation, hygiene and other needs of the affected population in north-western Pakistan, UNICEF has appealed for $47.3 million to fund its flood relief operations.