Relief efforts begin to reach flood-affected children and families
By Kun Li
NEW YORK, USA, 5 July 2007 – Hampered by flash floods and blocked roads, relief efforts have started reaching the most vulnerable since Cyclone Yemyin struck Pakistan last week.
In the worst-hit province of Balochistan, where child mortality and malnutrition rates were very high even before the disaster, a top priority for UNICEF and its partners is ensuring that children have access to food, safe water and protection from abuse or exploitation.
“The situation has been very difficult,” said UNICEF Pakistan Communication Officer Antonia Paradela. “Large areas of Balochistan have been badly affected. [River] banks have been inundated and many buildings have been destroyed.
“UNICEF is particularly worried because many areas have been cut off,” she added. “And children are the ones who get less of a chance to access vital services, such as health, education, water and basic sanitation.”
Concerns about malnutrition
Ms. Paradela noted that in Balochistan, the country’s poorest province, 1 out of 10 children dies before his or her first birthday. Infant and maternal mortality are also high, and nearly 40 per cent of children in the province are malnourished.
“In some of the districts worst-affected by the floods, when we had previous assessments, we had found out that half of the children had had diarrhoea in the prior two weeks,” said Ms. Paradela. “In the current conditions, with the water system being damaged, we are very worried about the children’s nutritional situation.”
A lack of safe water and sanitation can lead to outbreaks of waterborne diseases, which in turn can cause diarrhoeal dehydration and wasting, especially in young children.
According to government estimates, the floods have left more than 100,000 people homeless in Balochistan Province alone. They are now living in the open or very basic shelters. Some 1.5 million people, about half of them children, are affected by the floods across Pakistan.
Meeting children’s urgent needs
In collaboration with other UN agencies, UNICEF is leading several crisis-response teams focusing on water and sanitation, education, child protection and communication, and is assisting with the health response.
“UNICEF will be focusing particularly on nutritional support, to make sure the malnourished children are attended to and they don’t suffer further,” said Ms. Paradela. She added that priority will be placed on meeting the needs of unaccompanied, separated and orphaned children, and providing female-headed households with access to relief services.
In addition, UNICEF will help set up learning spaces and supply educational materials for children living in camps for the displaced, and will assist with the reopening of schools as soon as possible.
In response to initial requests from the authorities in Balochistan, the organization has already delivered blankets, water-purification tablets, tents, jerry cans, emergency health kits and other relief supplies to meet the urgent needs of flood-affected children and families.