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Time is running out for marooned flood victims in a district of Pakistan's Sindh Province

By Raabya Amjad

DADU DISTRICT, Pakistan, 2 November 2010 – The recent floods in Pakistan have been particularly cruel to the Dadu district in the country’s southern Sindh Province. With nearly half its population of 1.3 million displaced, and virtually everyone in the region affected, providing much-needed supplies and medical assistance to flood victims has indeed been a monumental endeavor.

VIDEO: 29 October 2010 - UNICEF correspondent Vivian Siu reports on the situation facing thousands still stranded by stagnant floodwaters in southern Pakistan as winter approaches.  Watch in RealPlayer


About 65,000 people in the district – mostly women and children – are stranded in their villages with no shelter on small tracts of land accessible only by boat or helicopter.” The risk of waterborne disease from the stagnant floodwaters grows daily, and the challenge of getting supplies into these areas has become increasingly difficult.

The military has made boats and hovercraft available to help UNICEF-supported medical teams reach the stranded communities, providing them with emergency health assistance and essential relief items, such as high-energy biscuits and anti-malarial bed nets. Despite these efforts, the devastation continues to grow months after the rains and flooding have ceased.

Health aid for the stranded

Northwest of the Main Nara Valley in Sindh, the village of Jamal Khan Leghari remains partially submerged and completely devastated. Of the approximately 200 families who once called the village their home, only 40 remain. They wait helplessly for some form of aid to arrive.

© UNICEF/Pakistan/2010/ Shuja
Children play in the lingering floodwaters in Dadu district, located in Sindh Province, Pakistan, where the risk of waterborne disease grows daily.

UNICEF Health Officer Dr. Kamal Asghar explains the urgency of the situation.

“Fifty-thousand people in two sub-districts of Dadu have been trapped in this water-logged area, and medical cover was not provided by anybody until the army made some access through the boats and hovercrafts,” he says. “After the rapid assessment, a plan for provision of emergency health assistance was chalked out in collaboration with the Health Department and Pakistan military.”

Now, medical teams are entering the area daily in military boats to provide emergency health services, maternal and newborn health care, immunization and health education sessions, according to Dr. Asghar. “In the last 10 days, we have covered 25,000 [stranded people] and are working to reach the remaining 25,000 people in the next 20 days,” he says.

‘We have nothing’

Ajna Farooq, 40, describes the night the floods came to her home in Dadu and tore her world apart.

© UNICEF Pakistan/2010/ Shuja
Jamal Khan Leghari village is one of the stranded communities calling for help in Dadu district, Sindh Province, Pakistan.

“All this happened in one night. The water just engulfed us, and submerged everything around us,” she says. “My husband has left me and I have four children. I stayed here in whatever is left of my home, as I did not have anywhere to go and no money.”

Ms. Farooq adds sadly: “We have nothing [to eat] except some wheat, which I mix with a lot of water to feed my children. I don't know what will happen. I have nothing to give my children. Eid is around the corner, I don't even have clothes or slippers for them.”

Victims face triple threat

With no road access and winter just around the corner, the health risks for women and children in Dadu will increase significantly if help is not provided in time.

© UNICEF/ Pakistan/2010/Shuja
A UNICEF-supported medical team travels on Pakistani military boat to provide emergency medical assistance to the marooned community of Jamal Khan Leghari village in Dadu district.

As expected in any disaster, children are the worst affected. Safia Haroon, 12, overcome with emotion, recalls her tragic experience: “The water came suddenly, very fast, maybe in one hour. It was very scary. My family stayed here because we had cattle…. We have a little wheat so we eat one day and don't eat one day. I used to go to school, but now there is no access anymore.”

The UN has warned that the slow pace of aid pledges could impede relief and winter contingency operations. Flood-affected communities in Pakistan face a triple threat of malnutrition, water borne diseases and respiratory infections such as pneumonia due to low temperatures. Supporting the unreached population will be an important challenge for the local authorities and their humanitarian partners after the scheduled departure of the Pakistani military, which is set for mid-November.



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