Fiza Gul (1) holds micro-nutrient “sprinkles” that helped her to recover from malnutrition
By David Youngmeyer
This story is part of a special series highlighting the experiences of Pakistani children and women who were affected by the devastating 2010 monsoon floods that struck Pakistan one year ago.
Nowshera, Pakistan. – Since the floods destroyed his crops, teacher and father-of-four Ibrahim (36), has been struggling to make ends meet for his family. Ibrahim’s two youngest children were identified this year as having severe acute malnutrition. When a UNICEF-supported community health worker came to Ibrahim’s home in Nowshera District in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) as part of routine health screening, she found that young Fiza Gul (1) and Sohaib Ahmed (4) were both in need of urgent help. Measurements taken of their mid-upper arms were below the minimum for healthy children.
“I was wondering why they were getting weaker and weaker,” says Ibrahim, holding Fiza on his lap. “I was very worried about them.” Both children were admitted to a health centre supported by UNICEF and other agencies, and run by implementing partner People’s Empowerment and Consulting Enterprise (PEACE). They visited the health centre weekly for monitoring of their condition and to receive take-home supplies of therapeutic food – sachets containing a highly nutritious peanut-based paste.
After about a month the children had made good progress and they were given supplementary food, including a version of the peanut paste, along with sachets of micro-nutrients to be sprinkled on their cooked meals. The children are now recovered, healthy and lively. “I was so happy to get this help for my children,” says Ibrahim. “Fiza Gul and Sohaib are much happier now, have more energy, and are more interested in their surroundings. I’m just worried that it could happen again.”
Before the floods, Ibrahim’s salary as a teacher was supplemented from the sale of wheat crops grown on his plot of land near the Kabul River. When the river swelled with monsoon rains, the flood waters inundated his fields and left behind a layer of mud, making the ground unusable. The family simply does not have enough funds to rehabilitate the land. Since the floods, the family resources have been severely stretched, and the quantity and quality of food for his children suffered.
PEACE Nutrition and Hygiene Educator, Fehmida Khattak, says people faced a lot of losses because of the floods. “They lost their crops, livestock and their houses. Now a year after the floods, they still face the same problems. They are not yet able to build their houses and their land is not available for harvesting. The floods have made people’s financial situation worse and contributes to children becoming malnourished. They don’t have proper food and safe drinking water.”
UNICEF and partners have screened almost 730,000 children, aged between six and 59 months, for malnutrition in flood-affected areas of KP and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. Of these, more than 62,000 children have received treatment for various levels of malnutrition. If these children had not been treated, they would have been more susceptible to disease as well as life-long stunting and cognitive impairment.
Across the country, around two million children and 600,000 pregnant and lactating women were screened for malnutrition. More than half a million children and women identified as needing help received UNICEF-supported treatment and assistance.
Nutrition Cluster Coordinator, Dr. Mohammad Najeeb, of UNICEF, says that although malnutrition existed prior to the floods, the impact of the disaster has exacerbated the situation for children.“Children living in low income households were already vulnerable to malnutrition, but the effect of displacement, lack of adequate water and sanitation, loss of livelihoods, and inadequate primary health care has in many cases made them even more vulnerable,” he says. "As a result, some families are simply unable to support the nutritional needs of their growing children and we are seeing the results in the number of admissions to treatment centres in flood-affected areas.”