Devastated by floods, families struggle to survive in the wake of hunger and disease

Women in Fatehpur village, district Badin, walk through knee deep water
Women and children of Fatehpur village have to walk through knee high water surrounding their houses which poses a major threat of waterborne diseases to the entire village population. ©UNICEF/Pakistan/2011/Malik

For the second time in a year, Pakistan has been hit by severe flooding caused by the monsoon rains. While scars of the 2010 floods, worst ever in the country’s history, had hardly faded and the people were struggling to get their lives back to normal, heavy rains have caused widespread destruction in the southern province of Sindh. Report by A. Sami Malik. Sindh, Pakistan – 19 September 2011

As downpour continues, about 5.4 million people have already been affected, half of which are children. More than 300,000 people have left their dwellings and moved to safer locations. Hundreds of thousands more have stayed back in or nearby their houses hoping for the rains to stop. With their houses and villages surrounded by dirty water, families and children are facing starvation and disease.

Hajra (40) is a mother of five. She lived in a low income colony in Mirpurkhas city which has been inundated by flood water. She has moved to a safer location but now faces starvation.

Persistent rains have caused the Indus River, the largest in the country to swell. As it passes through the affected districts of Sindh, there is a fear of it overflowing and inundating large areas on both banks. This could result in colossal loss of life and property.

Moving across the affected areas, wide spread destruction, caused by water, can be seen. Houses, crops, livestock and the infrastructure have been severely damaged. People forced to move away from their communities are putting up in the open either on the highways or on embankments of water bodies. Amongst other things, shelter is their immediate need. A few lucky ones that are in possession of tents are seen erecting them while others wait in despair.

A family affected by the recent floods
Women and children are living in terrible conditions caused by the severe flooding in Pakistan. ©UNICEF/Pakistan/2011/Malik

Families are seen walking through large ponds of water in an attempt to get to safer locations. They carry with them their meagre belongings – charpoys (local Pakistani rope bed), some clothing and household utensils.

As is the case in any such emergency, children are the most vulnerable. They outnumber adults and are more susceptible to the hazards brought by floods. Scarcity of food, clean water, hygiene, sanitation and medical services increase the risk for children to fall prey to waterborne diseases.

Due to harsh living conditions, people are forced to use dirty water for washing and at times even drinking. They have no option but to defecate in the open. Vast areas covered with dirty water, corpses of dead animals and human faeces result in abundance of flies and mosquitos.

The fresh floods this year have affected new areas in addition to those that were affected last year. For hundreds of thousands of children, it is a double disaster. Their modest living conditions have become miserable. They await help from the authorities and the international community and they need it the soonest.

As part of the joint humanitarian response to the emergency, UNICEF has started its life-saving operations in the worst hit areas of Sindh. It is reaching children with safe drinking water and vaccinations. It is providing 200,000 litres of water to nearly 40,000 people every day. It is also distributing bed nets, medicines and new borne kits. Over the next few weeks as it scales up its operations, education, hygiene and protection will be provided to hundreds of thousands in need.