Six months after the flood disaster in Pakistan, the country is still struggling with the consequences, as the UN children’s fund UNICEF has made clear. To date, the water has not receded in all affected areas and many families are still living in emergency shelters. Ten million people in the areas affected by the floods still have no access to clean drinking water. Coupled with inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene conditions, this leads to severe malnutrition, especially among children, according to UNICEF.
A destroyed water supply
5.4 million people in Pakistan, including 2.5 million children, depend exclusively on contaminated water. Many families would have no choice but to use potentially disease-contaminated water.
Even before the floods, only 36 percent of Pakistan’s water was considered safe for consumption, even though the country’s drinking water supply system covers 92 percent of the population. However, the situation has deteriorated enormously as a result of the floods, most water systems have been damaged and the water supply has been severely restricted, according to the UN Children’s Fund.
A vicious cycle of infection and malnutrition
“Every day millions of girls and boys in Pakistan fight an impossible battle against preventable waterborne diseases and the resulting malnutrition,” said UNICEF Representative in Pakistan Abdullah Fadil.
Diseases such as diarrhoea, malaria or cholera would spread more quickly in the polluted water and prevent the absorption of important nutrients. As a consequence, this leads to malnutrition. Many children are more susceptible to diseases due to their already weakened immune systems, which perpetuates a negative spiral of malnutrition and infection.
Malnutrition accounts for half of all child deaths in Pakistan. In the areas affected by the flood disaster, more than 1.5 million boys and girls are already severely malnourished. UNICEF expects that number to increase in the absence of clean water and proper sanitation.
Women and children suffer from a lack of sanitary facilities
“Safe drinking water is not a privilege, it is a human right,” Fadil continued, “We depend on the continued support of our donors to provide clean water, build toilets and water supplies to those children and families who need it most to set up vital sanitation facilities.”
In addition to the lack of water supply, the number of people defecating outdoors has increased by more than 14 percent in the regions affected by the flood disaster. The lack of suitable toilets affects a disproportionate number of children, girls and women.
UNICEF calls for more funding for sanitation infrastructure
Last summer, Pakistan suffered from the worst floods in its history on record. Almost 1700 people died. In the meantime, a third of the country was under water. To date, the water has not receded in all affected areas. Many people still live in emergency shelters.
Since then, UNICEF, together with its partners, has given 1.2 million children and families access to safe drinking water. In the run-up to World Water Day on Wednesday, the aid organization is calling on the government and donors to allocate more funds to invest in climate-resilient drinking water supply systems and the use of renewable technologies such as solar pump systems. “It is imperative that the voices and needs of children in Pakistan are paramount at all costs and that children are placed at the heart of all post-flood plans,” Fadil said.
fwu/se (dpa, UNICEF)