From crisis to recovery: How critical supplies are supporting flood-affected children in Pakistan
One year on, take a look at UNICEF's critical role in providing shelter, medicines and education to children and families affected by 2022’s catastrophic floods.
When monsoon rains triggered Pakistan's most devastating floods in recent history, the resulting humanitarian crisis affected 33 million people and took almost 1,800 lives. UNICEF immediately raced to deliver life-saving supplies to communities inundated by the floodwaters.
Masooma Qazilbash, Programme Specialist at UNICEF Pakistan, recounts the rapid supply efforts to reach the most vulnerable and discusses the support still required to help them rebuild their lives.
Every year, Pakistan experiences monsoon rains – but 2022 was devastating. The floods were unlike anything we’d ever seen before. By the time they ended, tens of millions of people were affected in more than half of Pakistan's districts and over 9 million children needed humanitarian support. Millions of homes were either damaged or washed away. For families, everything was disrupted – access to healthcare, nutrition, schooling and clean water.
I remember seeing families living in temporary roadside camps with nothing except the possessions they could save. Communities in these areas were already among the poorest and most vulnerable in Pakistan. They were overwhelmed by the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic and a nutrition crisis, so the floods made things so much worse. Children, as always, were among the most vulnerable.
A mammoth supply effort
In Pakistan, UNICEF had supplies prepared to meet the immediate needs of around 150,000 people. My amazing supply and logistics colleagues got into action fast, delivering pre-positioned emergency supplies. More were brought in by trucks and international charter flights. Our supply headquarters in Copenhagen airlifted urgently needed supplies that would take too long to procure locally.
“Even after three weeks, large parts of the flood-affected areas are still submerged under water. Thousands of families in the 81* calamity-hit districts are still cut off and desperately need support. Families have no food, clean water or medicines.”
*This figure would rise to 94 districts in the following weeks.
We installed temporary latrines and clean water stations, delivered water purification tablets and hygiene kits, and figured out the changing needs of children and families as fast as possible. Thankfully, through our four field offices and operation hubs, we could quickly reach communities in need. It was tough with the roads cut off, but we found ways. I'm proud we were one of the first responders on the ground.
Reaching vulnerable communities
Seeing the flooding first-hand was unbelievable. Miles and miles of land completely underwater. You could only see the tops of trees and rooftops in some places. Entire villages were turned into lakes. Honestly, it was very difficult to see that. The scale of the needs compared to the resources UNICEF, its partners and the government had at the time was heartbreaking. There were so many people displaced and the little they had was gone.
But we got essential supplies into the hands of families. Children treasured all the things that were distributed – items like school backpacks, learning materials and soap. This showed just how valued they were. We distributed hundreds of thousands of water, sanitation and hygiene kits, blankets, medicines and therapeutic food supplies.
Back to school
We quickly set up temporary learning spaces using tents and tarps. Soon after, we installed High-Performance Tents, which are durable and comfortable spaces for children to continue learning. This gave kids some sense of routine amid the chaos around them. While we provided blackboards, learning kits, recreation kits, floor mats and backpacks.
What amazed me most were the children. After everything they had been through, they were happy just to be reading and writing again. The teachers were amazing too. Along with our partners, we did as much as possible to ensure children had places to learn – and we even had some first-time enrolments in class. Imagine that? The will to access education after losing so much is astounding and inspiring.
Clean drinking water was desperately needed. Wells and infrastructure were damaged, leaving communities only stagnant ponds to access water. Drinking it was life-threatening as cholera was spreading rapidly. UNICEF trucked in treated water for people to collect in jerry cans and we provided purification tablets so families could clean potentially unsafe sources. These were important but temporary measures to protect communities.
Even six months after the devastation, more than 10 million people lived in flood-affected areas without safe drinking water. In the future, the key will be to provide access to safe and sustainable water supplies. UNICEF is working with the government and partners to improve the situation by developing innovative ways to install community water pumps and filtration services, building upon the hundreds of systems we’ve installed in the past year.
Malnutrition was already a big problem in Pakistan before the floods and the displacement and loss of livelihoods made it worse. Our initial response was to distribute ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) through mobile health teams and clinics to reach severely malnourished children.
In the last year, we’ve delivered hundreds of thousands of therapeutic food items, including micronutrient powders, to boost the nutritional value of meals children are eating. UNICEF is also screening for malnutrition, so our efforts are targeted to reach the most vulnerable children. This was an issue before the floods, and it continues to be after.
Protection against the elements
The floods destroyed over 2 million homes right before winter arrived. As families were left exposed to freezing temperatures and snow, UNICEF quickly distributed thermal blankets and winter clothes such as jackets, hats, socks and shoes to displaced children and families. As needs grew, UNICEF procured more supplies to see children through the harsh weather.
Keeping women and children warm and dry was essential for their health and well-being after losing so much. Our winter supply efforts received incredible support from donors, enabling vital protection from the elements during a difficult recovery.