In wake of the floods, malnutrition threatens thousands of children in Pakistan 

In wake of the floods, malnutrition threatens thousands of children in Pakistan

Mohammad Ali, of Southern Pakistan, is not the world famous boxing legend, but a true fighter nonetheless. This Mohammad Ali is just two-and-a-half-years-old and from a small village outside of Jamshoro in Pakistan’s Sindh Province. He is winning his struggle to survive after nearly succumbing to health complications associated with severe acute malnutrition. By Chris Tidey. JAMSHORO, Pakistan, 21 November 2011

VIDEO: UNICEF correspondent Priyanka Pruthi reports on children struggling to survive the battle against hunger and disease in Pakistan’s flood-hit Sindh Province.

Battle to survive

In early September this year, monsoon floods destroyed much of Mohammad’s home and village, forcing his family of 10 to abandon the few possessions. They left their home to stay with relatives on higher ground a few kilometers away. With their crops lost and clean water in short supply, Mohammad, the youngest of eight children, began rapidly losing weight. He was soon admitted to Jamshoro hospital and diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition and a potentially lethal diarrhoeal infection.

“When Mohammad came to us, he weighed only seven kilograms and he was in such poor health that we were not certain he would survive,” says Dr. Zulifar of Jamshoro hospital.

Cases like that of Mohammad are all too common across much of Sindh where the recent monsoon floods have complicated an already precarious nutritional situation for many of the 5.4 million people affected, half of whom are children. Flood waters have devastated homes, businesses and livestock, destroying livelihoods and undermining food security. At least 2.2 million acres of cropland has been inundated, with nearly 75 per cent of crops in 16 districts either destroyed or damaged and more than a third of livestock lost or sold. Families now without jobs or land on which to grow their crops are often unable to provide adequate food for their children.

Noor Bano cradles her son Mohammad Ali in her arms at a UNICEF-supported nutrition stabilization centre in the Sindh province UNICEF Image © UNICEF Pakistan/2011/Page

Such dire circumstances are compounded by widespread poverty in the region and large family sizes, some of 10 or more children, resulting in too little food to go around. Many families in Sindh are also still recovering from the 2010 floods which aggravated existing levels of widespread chronic acute malnutrition – in essence creating a double disaster.

Critical malnutrition rates

Results of a national nutrition survey carried out this year before the current flood emergency found that, on average, 58 per cent of households in Pakistan were food-insecure, meaning they lacked access to adequate food. Almost a third of children across the country were underweight, with the situation worse for children in rural areas. The rate of acute malnutrition (15.1 per cent) was at a critical level, while severe acute malnutrition (5.8 per cent) was at a very high rate.

UNICEF and partners are providing lifesaving nutritional supplies and services across affected areas of Sindh, including the provision of therapeutic food and medicines to medical facilities and feeding centres for the treatment of malnutrition. The organization is supporting 59 new Outpatient Therapeutic Feeding Programmes, which are providing nutrition services in severely-affected districts. These new sites are in addition to the 454 operational sites already established throughout Sindh in response to the 2010 flood disaster. More than 30,000 severely and moderately malnourished children have been registered for nutritional support.

A woman comforts a severely malnourished child at a UNICEF-supported nutrition stabilization centre, Sindh province. UNICEF Image © UNICEF Pakistan/2011/Page

In addition, more than 10,800 malnourished pregnant and lactating women have been registered for Supplementary Feeding Programmes. Hundreds of thousands of women have attended sessions on Infant and Young Child Feeding practices, including learning about the importance of exclusive breastfeeding, early initiation of breastfeeding after birth, and timely and age-appropriate complementary foods for children.

The road ahead

After a week of inpatient treatment with medicine and therapeutic food provided by UNICEF, Mohammad Ali’s health greatly improved and his weight increased to a more healthy level. He has now been referred to an Outpatient Therapeutic Programme where he receives a weekly checkup and therapeutic feeding.

Mohammad and his mother Noor have recently returned to the home village and are trying to rebuild their family home.  Despite Mohamed’s strong recovery, his family continues to face difficult challenges. All of Mohammad’s seven older siblings are suffering from poor nutrition and consequent health problems including skin and respiratory infections. The family also relies on contaminated run off from a nearby river to meet their daily water needs.

Noor believes strongly, however, that their life will continue to get better.
“Mostly, I am happy that Mohammad Ali is no longer in danger,” says Noor. “Now more than anything, I hope that he will be able to get an education and perhaps even become a doctor himself one day so that he can help children in this kind of situation.”

As part of the UN Rapid Response Plan for the 2011 Pakistan Floods, UNICEF requires US$50.3 million to cover the immediate needs of children and women for six months, including support for nutrition programmes. Just 25 per cent of the nutrition funding needs have been met to date ($2.7 million out of $10.7 million required) – more funds are urgently required to ensure malnourished and at-risk children are reached with an integrated package of nutrition assistance.

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