By Patrick McCormick
GUJRAT, Pakistan, 2 September 2010 – In a show of support for the victims of flooding in Pakistan, UNICEF and World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Directors Anthony Lake and Josette Sheeran visited the agencies’ humanitarian operations in the Muzzafargarh district of Punjab, one of the worst-affected provinces of the country.
|VIDEO: 31 August 2010 – UNICEF correspondent Anja Baron reports on the visit by UNICEF and World Food Programme chiefs Anthony Lake and Josette Sheeran to flood-stricken Punjab province, Pakistan.|
In the village of Gujrat, the two agency heads visited a girls’ high school that had been transformed into an emergency relief centre for hundreds of families – mainly women and children – who had fled the rising water with little but the clothes they were wearing.
Despite the searing heat, the incessant swarming of flies and severe crowding at the school, families arriving there could finally rest. They received much-needed health and nutrition assistance and gathered their strength after days trudging along roads or wading through dangerous floodwaters.
|UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake (third from left) speaks to a health worker at a school sheltering flood-affected families in Muzaffargarh district, located in Pakistan's Punjab province. World Food Programme Executive Director Josette Sheeran is at right.|
Assistance on the ground
Mr. Lake and Ms. Sheeran toured the school and met families receiving a wide range of aid, including immunization, basic hygiene kits and high-energy biscuits for children and pregnant and lactating women.
Meanwhile, brand new water storage tanks, water chlorination systems and a waste management system were being installed in the school. Latrines were being repaired. And health education sessions were being taught by ‘lady health workers.’
The UNICEF and WFP chiefs visited with severely malnourished babies, many of whose mothers were unable to breastfeed after being without food and water for days as they looked for shelter and relief from the flooding.
|UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake observes flood damage from the window of a UN helicopter flying over Muzaffargarh district, Punjab province, Pakistan.|
Entering a room being used as a ‘child-friendly space’ – a safe place for displaced children to learn and play – Mr. Lake looked over a sea of expectant young people clutching drawings of their impressions of the disaster. Many featured everyday items such as dolls, flowers and fruit.
“It’s heartbreaking,” said Mr. Lake as he looked at picture after picture. “The dolls, the flowers, they’re small things but it is what they left behind – their memories.”
Mr. Lake reassured the children that UNICEF was there to keep them healthy and help them through their trauma. Then he took off his glasses and played a trick with his eyebrows to make the children laugh, as some of them shyly tried to mimic his gestures. Grins spread across young faces as the children forgot, for a moment, what they have been through and the challenges ahead.
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