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2008 Floods in Pakistan

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Six months after floods devastated Pakistan, the situation remains desperate

© ©UNICEF Pakistan/2010/Ramoneda
Zeinat, 10, stands outside the tent where she lives with her displaced family in a flood-affected village in Charsadda District, located in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, Pakistan.

Six months ago, the worst floods in Pakistan's history struck that country, affecting nearly 20 million people. This is one in a series of stories on the lasting impact of the crisis.

By Priyanka Pruthi

NEW YORK, USA, 28 January 2011 – Six months after devastating floods tore through Pakistan, the country remains in a state of emergency. The magnitude of the tragedy has been difficult to fully comprehend. Millions remain without food or shelter, and the situation could get from bad to worse now that winter has set in.

Nearly 20 million people have been affected by this, Pakistan’s worst disaster in living memory – more than the number of people affected by the Asian tsunami and the earthquakes in Kashmir and Haiti, combined. For a country already reeling from the aftermath of a major earthquake in 2005, previous floods in 2008 and the displacement of up to 2 million people by conflict in the north-west 2009, the flood crisis has been overwhelming.

Aid for the most vulnerable

At their height, the floods submerged one-fifth of Pakistan, an area the size of the United Kingdom, and destroyed everything in their path.

The catastrophe stretched over a period of seven straight weeks, beginning with heavy flooding in Khyber Pakhtunkwa, in the north-western Pakistan. The floods moved from the north to south, devastating the provinces of Balochistan, Sindh and Punjab.

From the outset, aid agencies and the Pakistani military struggled to evacuate flood victims. Those who escaped the destruction found shelter in thousands of government relief camps and public buildings such as schools.

UNICEF mounted one of the largest emergency responses in its history and worked to reach the most vulnerable – women and children – with basic necessities like water, sanitation facilities and critical medical supplies. UNICEF-supported health centres and mobile health teams have also provided life-saving vaccinations, check-ups and essential medicines to avert maternal and child deaths.

Malnutrition crisis

However, large numbers of people in the flood-affected provinces still desperately need assistance – including hundreds of thousands of Pakistani children who are now battling malnutrition. Nutrition survey results show an alarmingly high 23.1 per cent rate of global acute malnutrition among children under the age of five in northern Sindh, for example, and 21.2 per cent in southern Sindh.

Child malnutrition has been a cause of concern in Pakistan for years, but the recent floods have exacerbated the situation.

“As the Pakistan flood crisis continues to evolve and attention for the emergency fades, there is a danger that people of the world will forget that Pakistani children still need a great deal of help,” said UNICEF Representative in Pakistan Pascal Villeneuve.

Difficult start to rebuilding

After spending months in relief camps – small oases of safety in a land overwhelmed by disaster – millions of people from flooded communities have returned home to rebuild their lives. Others are still waiting for the water to recede.

“What’s so tragic is that many of them are worse off now than when all the land was underwater, because when all the land was underwater and they were displaced, they were getting emergency relief,” said UNICEF Deputy Representative in Pakistan Karen Allen. “Now that they’ve gone back,” she added, “there is nobody there to help them.”

With the arrival of a bitter winter temperatures, the need for shelter, safe drinking water, food and health care has become more acute.

Herculean task

“It is now crucial that the world supports the millions affected in Pakistan,” said UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia Daniel Toole. “We still have much more work to do to save lives and protect the health, nutrition, education and safety of children and women, but require continued funding to do so.”

Though the task of rebuilding Pakistan is Herculean, donations have already slowed to a trickle. While UNICEF has received $198.8 million in donations and pledges, an additional $52.3 million is required to ensure that the organization can continue its relief, return and early-recovery activities in the flood zone.

Six months on, more than 170,000 flood victims are looking at an uncertain future in relief camps, while others struggle to start afresh, still waiting for assistance on the long road to recovery.

© ©UNICEF Pakistan/2010/Ramoneda
A family returns home after spending four months in a displacement camp in Charsadda District, located in Pakistan's flood-ravaged Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.

 

 

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