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UNICEF: Months after floods devastated Pakistan, millions of children remain at risk

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Around 33 million people have been affected by flooding this past year in Pakistan. Photo by Shahzaib Akber/EPA-EFE

Around 33 million people have been affected by flooding this past year in Pakistan. Photo by Shahzaib Akber/EPA-EFE

Jan. 8 (UPI) — U.N. officials on Monday warned that millions of children in Pakistan remain at risk of death and disease from flooding that devastated the south Asian nation months earlier.

Pakistan’s monsoon season of mid-June to October ravaged the country, resulting in at least 1,739 people killed, including 647 children, according to government statistics.

Though flooding ceased months ago, upwards of 4 million children remain living near contaminated and stagnant flood waters and 10 million still require immediate lifesaving support ahead of the winter, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund said Monday.

“Children living in Pakistan’s flood-affected areas have been pushed to the brink,” Abdullah Fadil, UNICEF’s representative in Pakistan, said in a statement. “The rains have ended, but the crisis for children has not.”

All four corners of the country were affected by the mass flooding, with the Center for Disaster Philanthropy stating some 15% of Pakistan’s 230 million people have been impacted.

The United Nations has directly blamed the floods on climate change, with its secretary-general, Antonio Guterres, stating following a trip of Pakistan in September that the country needs “massive financial support” from the international community as “a matter of justice” as it is not responsible for rising greenhouse gases.

In the last few days, calls for assistance for Pakistan have been amplifying, with the U.N. development agency, UNDP, saying last week that on top of the 33 million people affected by the floods, an additional 9 million people are at risk of being pushed into poverty.

On Friday, Pakistani Prime Minister Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif wrote in an op-ed for The Guardian that an area the size of Switzerland remains underwater due to floods and that parts of the country “now look like a huge series of permanent lakes, transforming forever the terrain and the lives of people living there.”

“No amount of pumps can remove this water in less than a year; and by July 2023, the worry is that these areas may flood again,” he said.

Doctors without Borders on Monday reported that its workers are seeing “alarmingly high numbers of people” with malaria and children with malnutrition in flooded communities in Sindh and eastern Balochistan provinces.

“The current response is inadequate,” it said in a statement. “People’s basic needs, including access to essential food assistance, healthcare and safe drinking water, in the worst flood-affected areas remain unmet.”

Despite the cold winter months when malaria cases are expected to decrease, the international doctor association said it has treated more than 42,000 patients for the disease since October.

The floods, it said, have also destroyed extensive crops, which is worsening the food insecurity crisis. Of the more than 28,300 children it has screened for malnutrition, 23% had severe acute malnutrition and 31% had moderate acute malnutrition.

The U.N. agency said that between July and December it has identified nearly double the number of children suffering from severe acute malnutrition in flood-affected areas compared to a year earlier.

Acute respiratory infections among children in flood-stricken areas has also “skyrocketed,” it said.

“Severe acute malnutrition, respiratory and water-borne diseases coupled with the cold are putting millions of young lives at risk,” Fadil said.

UNICEF said only 37% of its call for $173.5 million for life-saving support for women and children in Pakistan has been heeded by the international community.

“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,” Fadil said.

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