Up to four million children in Pakistan are still living next to contaminated floodwater

Pakistan floods children
4 min read
17 January, 2023
The child survival crisis remains acute in flood-affected areas of Pakistan as rates of respiratory infections and severe acute malnutrition soar.

More than four months after a national state of emergency was declared in Pakistan, up to four million children are still living near contaminated and stagnant flood waters, risking their survival and well-being.

Pakistan is still reeling from the unprecedented monsoon floods unleashed last August which killed more than 1,700 people and affected some 33 million others.

"The rains may have ended, but the crisis for children has not. Nearly 10 million girls and boys are still in need of immediate, lifesaving support and are heading into a bitter winter without adequate shelter"

Millions of people remain displaced, and those who have been able to go back home are often returning to damaged or destroyed homes and mud-covered fields that cannot be planted.

Food prices have soared, and the number of people facing food insecurity had doubled to 14.6 million, according to UN figures.

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Acute respiratory infections among children, a leading cause of child mortality worldwide, have skyrocketed in flood-stricken areas.

“Children living in Pakistan’s flood-affected areas have been pushed to the brink,” said Abdullah Fadil, UNICEF Representative in Pakistan.

“The rains may have ended, but the crisis for children has not. Nearly 10 million girls and boys are still in need of immediate, lifesaving support and are heading into a bitter winter without adequate shelter. Severe acute malnutrition, respiratory and water-borne diseases coupled with the cold are putting millions of young lives at risk.”

In Jacobabad, a southern district where many families have little more than mere cloth to cover their makeshift shelters by stagnant floodwaters, temperatures have dropped down to 7 degrees Celsius at night. In mountainous and high-altitude areas, which have also been affected by the floods, snow has fallen, and temperatures have dropped below 0 degrees Celsius.

“As families begin to return to their villages, our response has moved with them,” said Fadil. “Our mobile health, nutrition and water teams continue to respond to immediate lifesaving needs, while we help restore and rehabilitate existing health, water, sanitation, and education facilities, supporting the Government’s efforts in climate-resilient recovery and reconstruction.

"We know the climate crisis played a central role in supercharging the cascading calamities evident in Pakistan. We must do everything within our power to ensure girls and boys in Pakistan are able to fully recover from the current disaster and to protect and safeguard them from the next one.”

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The World Bank has estimated that up to nine million more people could be dragged into poverty as a result of the flooding.

Furthermore, the head of the UN development agency told AFP that the international community must help Pakistan recover or the country will be locked in misery.

"The sheer destruction of these floods, the human suffering, the economic cost... turns these floods truly into a cataclysmic event," United Nations Development Programme administrator Achim Steiner said. 

Pakistan, with the world's fifth-largest population, is responsible for just 0.8 percent of global greenhouse emissions but is also one of the most vulnerable countries to extreme weather caused by climate change.

Earlier this month, the United Nations said that more than $16 billion is needed to help the country recover from the devastating floods that submerged a third of the country and to better resist the impact of climate change.

"Pakistan, with the world's fifth-largest population, is responsible for just 0.8% of global greenhouse emissions but is also one of the most vulnerable countries to extreme weather caused by climate change"

A previous appeal for $816 million to help the victims of Pakistan's cataclysmic monsoon floods has so far resulted in less than half that amount. Yet the situation remains dire months after the monsoon rains ended, with flood waters still not receding in some parts of southern Pakistan.

Following an international conference in Geneva this month, Pakistan received over $9 billion in pledges to help it recover from the catastrophic floods, vowing to become a model for how countries can build climate change resilience.

"We need to give 33 million people their future back," UN chief Antonio Guterres said, adding that Pakistan proved the need for a "loss and damage" fund, agreed at the UN's COP27 climate summit in November, that could cover the climate-related destruction endured by developing nations.

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"If there is any doubt about loss and damage, go to Pakistan," he said. The situation there also clearly showed the dangers of inaction to stop global warming.

"Today it's Pakistan. Tomorrow it could be your country," Guterres said. "Without action, climate catastrophe is coming for all of us."