By Zeeshan Suhail
JACOBABAD DISTRICT, Pakistan, 24 October 2012 – Reshma is a cheerful first-grader with hopes and aspirations for her future. She makes beautiful dolls in her spare time.
Last month, monsoon rains flooded her village, Chandran, in Jacobabad district, Sindh. Now her immediate hope is to have her destroyed home reconstructed.
Reshma’s father is a labourer with nine other children to feed, clothe and educate. Work is scarce, and the family had barely recovered from the back-to-back monsoon floods of 2010 and 2011.
Disproportionate risk for children
Rain fell continuously for several days in early September, inundating many areas of southern Punjab, northern Sindh and northern Balochistan. The National Disaster Management Authority puts the number of affected people at 5.06 million – with satellite imagery showing that large areas of 15 districts were flooded.
More than 1.12 million acres of crops have been affected, and nearly 460,000 houses have been swept away or badly damaged.
Reports from the field indicate that the families affected this year are even worse off than those affected by the previous floods, with higher standing water and more devastation across a smaller area. There are dire needs for shelter, food, water, sanitation, healthcare, malaria prevention and education.
In the aftermath of flood emergencies such as this one, children become disproportionately susceptible to diseases and malnutrition, and many are unable to attend school.
Reshma hasn’t been able to attend school for weeks. The two-room school building quickly filled with household items as village residents rushed to save whatever they could from the rising water.
The downpours also deluged what had looked like a bountiful rice crop, just before harvest. Weeks later, the land is still inundated with the floodwaters. The rice itself will be useless, although the grassy stems can be chopped off to use as fodder for livestock.
If the stagnant water doesn’t recede quickly, the wheat crop cannot be planted in the winter.
Reshma spends her days waiting for the water to recede so she can go back to school and also help her family build a new home. Until then, her desires are modest. “We need food and water,” she says. “Right now, we live in others’ homes; I will be content once I go back to my own.”
Providing water, education and protective spaces
In response to the flood emergency, UNICEF and partners are providing safe drinking water to 267,900 flood-affected people in Balochistan, Punjab and Sindh.
If funding permits, UNICEF, government and cluster partners plan to provide emergency education services to more than 21,000 children by establishing 1,147 temporary learning centres, which aim to provide safe and secure learning environments that promote the protection and well-being of students. Fifteen are already up and running, benefitting more than 2,100 children. Children in these centres will be mainstreamed back into regular schools, as either continuing or new students.
The child protection sub-cluster, including UNICEF, Save the Children and Action Aid, has established 16 protective spaces in Sindh, benefitting more than 1,658 children, of whom 46 per cent are girls. In addition, 379 children (49 per cent girls) and 73 women have received or are receiving psychosocial support and have access to recreational activities through the child protection sub-cluster response.
Preparing for the future
“The impact of devastating flooding in Pakistan over the past three years has been particularly severe for millions of children,” says Emergency Coordinator for UNICEF Pakistan Oscar Butragueño. “Recurrent natural disasters affect Pakistan’s ability to achieve development goals. This is why UNICEF not only reaches out to flood-affected children and their families in the country’s most disadvantaged areas, but we are committed to mitigating the impact of disasters on children and increasing community resilience by integrating disaster risk reduction into all of our work.”
To continue life-saving activities in response to the 2012 monsoon floods, UNICEF urgently needs US$15.4 million to provide flood-affected communities with timely and adequate assistance through the next three months.