UNICEF says children account for nearly half of the 33 million people affected by the catastrophic floods in Pakistan. Torrential rains have killed more than 1,200 people, including 400 children, and demolished much of the infrastructure vital to children’s well-being.
The U.N. children’s fund estimates the monsoon rains and ensuing flooding have damaged or destroyed at least 18,000 schools across the country, depriving millions of children of access to education. It says hospitals and other infrastructure on which children rely for essential services have been put out of commission.
UNICEF Pakistan Representative Abdullah Fadil said the children affected are among the most vulnerable in the country, adding they live in many of the 72 hardest-hit districts.
Speaking from the capital, Islamabad, Friday, he said 40% of children already were suffering from stunting, a condition that impairs cognitive development, before the floods hit. He said children in these areas who are without a home, school, or even safe drinking water are at heightened risk of outbreaks of waterborne diseases.
“Diarrhea, cholera, all the diseases you can imagine will hit them quite soon,” he said. “So, we need to be in place to respond to those as well. Winter is eight weeks away, so we need to be ready for that as well.”
Fadil said relief and rescue operations are difficult to carry out because the floods have cut off access to many areas. Nevertheless, he said UNICEF has teams in place in all four affected provinces working to distribute humanitarian supplies.
While lifesaving rescue and relief efforts are indispensable, he said protection for children who are particularly vulnerable in times of crisis is of extreme importance. He said UNICEF has trained social workers in the field providing psychosocial support.
“We also have set up child-friendly spaces and we have also activated our PSEA, or prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse, mechanisms to ensure that not only children, but vulnerable communities are not exploited through the provision of support,” Fadil said.
The floods have displaced large numbers of families and many children have become separated from their parents or caregivers. Fadil said one of the most important tasks ahead is identifying, protecting, and ultimately reuniting the children with their families.