When the roof of her house began to collapse, Sugrah was in the kitchen, cooking sweet rice with her mother.
The bedrooms of her parents, grandparents and aunt and uncle were all caving in. Flood water had seeped up the mud walls, and Sugrah began to hear the thud of bricks falling from the ceiling. “I got very scared. I thought we wouldn’t survive,” she admits.
It had been raining heavily for days, but they weren’t expecting floods – certainly not on this scale.
As the roof of the house collapsed, her younger brothers and sisters began screaming. Neighbours came running, and the family grabbed the children and fled to a nearby bypass.
For weeks, they lived under a makeshift tent made of plastic bags stretched over sticks. Sugrah’s three-year-old brother, Fayaz, was terrified. “He wouldn’t stop crying,” she remembers. Sugrah recalls trying to reassure him with a doll and a miniature toy car that had been salvaged from the floods.
We are sitting together on a charpoy – a light bed frame – gazing at the rubble of her beloved home. Sugrah avoids going back into what is left of the house. “That place scares me a lot,” she says softly. “It’s all broken.”
As I speak with Sugrah, little Fayaz cries on his mother’s lap. He is hungry, but his family has little to nothing to eat. The family used to work for a powerful landowner, growing mustard leaves and wheat, but the fields were destroyed in the floods. So, these days, the family goes hungry.
Sugrah’s story of loss is one of millions. Thousands of homes have been destroyed in Sindh and Balochistan, and more than 600 children have died. Villagers in Sugrah’s village, Rato Goth, tell me that children and the elderly lost their lives as they tried to flee. They estimate that the water level rose to five feet.
Pakistan was already a climate hotspot before the catastrophic floods in August. In April, heatwaves scorched farmland and led to drought. The mountainous north experienced glacial lake outburst floods, threatening clean water sources. Then in June, the Indus River began overflowing from heavy monsoon rains.
Around Sugrah’s village, destroyed cropland stretches as far as the eye can see. Farmers fear they have lost not just one, but two harvests – a looming food security crisis.
The areas hardest hit by the floods were already some of the poorest and most disadvantaged, with soaring rates of stunting, newborn deaths and out-of-school children. At a UNICEF-supported mobile health camp we visited earlier that day, mothers were bringing in children suffering from malaria, dengue and respiratory infections. Dozens of frail children were weakened by severe acute malnutrition, a life-threatening condition.
As the floodwaters and media attention recede, millions of families in Pakistan continue to struggle with the aftermath of the climate devastation – 10 million children in Pakistan still need emergency assistance. And with the international appeal for Pakistan only 22 per cent funded, many more children may succumb to life-threatening diseases in the coming days and weeks.
While UNICEF and partners continue to respond to the child survival crisis, the next step will be rebuilding children’s lives, hopes and futures. An additional 2 million children are out of school, flood distress is widespread, and families need long-term support to keep their children healthy and well nourished.
Today, Sugrah and her family sleep in a modest tent just outside their home. Sugrah still harbours fear, but her hope is to rebuild her family home one day. “I don’t know how to live anywhere else,” she says wistfully.