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Pakistan: flooding leaves children malnourished

Driving through Sindh Province of southern Pakistan, I’m struck by the vast stretches of once thriving farmland now barren. Standing water from last year’s catastrophic floods has ensured that this land will not produce the crops it once did for some time to come. Six months after the flooding began we are seeing many families who fled their villages returning home. But the time away from their homes and livelihoods with limited access to food, clean water and healthcare has caused an alarming number of children to become malnourished. This is why I am here.

Figures released last week indicate that nearly one in four children is acutely malnourished, and therefore at much higher risk of severe illness and death. We knew the situation was bad – we could see it in the camps, villages and the overwhelming numbers in our treatment centres – but we didn’t know it had reached this scale. It is now thought that 100,000 children in this area are malnourished or will become malnourished in the coming months. What these numbers confirm is that we have to do more, and fast.

Children who receive treatment can recover

Today, I visited one of our nutrition centres where Save the Children is treating malnourished children across the worst affected areas of Sindh. In the centre, I spoke to Khatoon whose 7-month old son Waqar is being treated for severe malnutrition. Khatoon told me about the difficulties faced by her village.

“We were in our home when suddenly the flood water came. We took our children, hurried away and slept on the open land. We had no shelter and lost everything. All we had were the clothes we were wearing. We were hungry and had nothing to eat for a long time. Now the water has gone down and we have moved back to the village. Our house has been completely destroyed so now we are trying to rebuild it using wood fallen from trees. In our village, conditions are bad, there are a lot of pregnant women who are very weak and many children are becoming very sick.”

Another mother, Satbai, arrived shortly after with her 3-month-old baby, Samani who is too weak to even cry.

He needs specialist treatment and will have to be transferred to the district hospital for round-the-clock care by Save the Children’s medical staff. Satbai tells me that she has been unable to breastfeed, which can often happen after an emergency as stress interrupts the flow of milk. This is a serious problem for young children as breastmilk is an essential part of their diet and the alternatives are often dangerous. Not knowing what else she could do, Satbai fed her son water and crushed biscuits. The water was dirty and he became sick. Thankfully, Samani will be treated in our centre and Satbai will be supported to restart breastfeeding.

These are stories I hear daily and while I know that children like Samani who receive treatment will recover, I wonder about the other children in the area who do not have access to treatment. What will happen to them? Can we get enough support to reach them in time?

I take some comfort in knowing that in the coming weeks, Save the Children will be quadrupling the number of treatment sites in this area. We will be reaching many more children, but with so many children already malnourished or at risk of becoming malnourished, there is a lot of work ahead. We will need to work long and hard to help Pakistan rebuild and recover, and to protect the country’s most vulnerable children.

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