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UNICEF supports fight against child malnutrition in flood-ravaged districts of Pakistan

Pakistan flood crisis, one year on

Children and families continue to cope – and rebuild their lives – a year after devastating monsoon floods struck Pakistan. This is one in a series of stories on their situation, one year on.

By David Youngmeyer

NOWSHERA, Pakistan, 2 August 2011 – Since the floods destroyed his crops, Ibrahim, 36, a teacher and father of four, has been struggling to make ends meet for his family. Ibrahim’s two youngest children have been recovering from severe acute malnutrition.

VIDEO: UNICEF correspondent Priyanka Pruthi reports on UNICEF’s continuing efforts, a year after the devastating 2010 floods in Pakistan, to aid children and families with malnutrition screening, therapeutic feeding and nutrition monitoring.  Watch in RealPlayer


The problem was identified earlier this year when a community health worker came to Ibrahim’s home in the Nowshera District of north-west Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. During a routine health screening, she found that 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.”

Monitoring and treatment

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). Afterwards, they visited the centre weekly for monitoring and to receive take-home supplies of therapeutic food – in the form of sachets containing a highly nutritious peanut-based paste.

© UNICEF Pakistan/2011/Quraishi
Fiza Gul, 1, held by her father, is re-assessed for malnutrition after treatment and passes (indicated by green marking) at a UNICEF-supported health centre in flood-affected Nowshera District, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, Pakistan.

After about a month, the children had made good progress and 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.”

Household resources stretched

Before the floods that devastated his community and others across Pakistan a year ago, 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 floodwaters 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 household’s resources have been severely stretched, and the quantity and quality of food for Ibrahim’s children has suffered.

© UNICEF Pakistan/2011/Quraishi
Fiza Gul, 1, holds a sachet of micro-nutrient 'sprinkles' that helped her recover from malnutrition in the flood-affected Nowshera District of north-west Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.

“They lost their crops, livestock and their houses,” says PEACE Nutrition and Hygiene Educator Fehmida Khattak, referring to the impact of the floods on the local population.
“Now, a year after the floods, they still face the same problems,” she adds. “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.”

Effects of malnutrition

UNICEF and its partners have screened almost 730,000 children for malnutrition in flood-affected areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. Of these children, who range in age from six months to five years, more than 62,000 have received treatment for various levels of malnutrition.

If they had not been treated, they would have been more susceptible to disease, as well as life-long stunting and cognitive impairment.

© UNICEF Pakistan/2011/Quraishi
A mother stands on a scale with her young child as part of malnutrition screening at a UNICEF-supported health centre in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan.

Across Pakistan, some 2 million children and 600,000 pregnant and lactating women have been screened for malnutrition. More than half a million children and women identified with symptoms of malnutrition have received UNICEF-supported treatment and assistance.

Children at risk

UNICEF’s Dr. Mohammad Najeeb is the Nutrition Cluster Coordinator for aid agencies here. He 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,” explains Dr. Najeeb.

“As a result, some families are simply unable to support the nutritional needs of their growing children,” he says. “We are seeing the results in the number of admissions to treatment centres in flood-affected areas.”



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