By Joe Cropp and Rabia Ajaib in Pakistan
High levels of malnutrition among the flood-affected communities of Pakistan remains one of the most challenging humanitarian problems in the region, say doctors working with the Pakistan Red Crescent in the area.
According to a survey conducted before the floods by the Sindh Department of Health and UNICEF, acute malnutrition rates were 22.9 per cent in northern Sindh and 21.2 per cent in the south. These rates were well above the World Health Organisation’s 15 per cent emergency threshold, which triggers a humanitarian response.
The survey indicated that millions of women and children were at particular risk, and that the scale of the problem had been growing due to extreme poverty, poor diet and health, exposure to disease, and inadequate sanitation and hygiene.
“These existing problems will be exacerbated by the tragedy that is now unfolding in Sindh where most of the families lost everything in the floods and do not have enough to eat,” says Dr Syed Jamal Shah, Health Coordinator IFRC. “The loss of food stocks and the destruction of crops have further increased food insecurity among these communities.”
“Weakened by malnutrition they will be more susceptible to the diseases that can come from stagnant water and poor hygiene,” he says.
More than nine million people have been affected by the floods in southern Pakistan. Many lost their homes, farmland, and belongings. 2.18 million acres of crops in the region were destroyed, and nearly 116,529 farm animals lost.
“I am hungry for at least one or two days of the week as I do not have enough food in the stock”, says Shehr Bano, a resident of Mirpur Khas. “We depend on the small amount of money that my son earns. It becomes very difficult for me to look after my youngest child who is five years old when I don’t have anything to give him to eat.”
It’s been five months since the floods struck and while the floodwaters have receded in most areas, some fields remain submerged, which has meant that many families are not able to cultivate this year - increasing food insecurity in the area. “I used to be a labourer on the landlord’s land before the floods but there is still water in the fields. I cannot restart my work until the water dries out and the landlord cultivates his land”, says Shehr Bano.
Since the floods first struck the Red Cross Red Crescent has so far been able to reach more than 50,000 families (over 350,000 people) with food, and emergency supplies such as kitchen sets, tents and tarpaulins. The food parcels contain ready-to-eat food, as well as staples like wheat, flour, sugar, lentils and cooking oil. The parcels can support a family of seven for two weeks. But more still needs to be done.
Dr Riaz Hussain, who has been visiting some of the worst affected areas of Sindh as part of a Pakistan Red Crescent mobile health clinic, says food shortages and malnutrition are the major issues facing communities living in the flood affected areas.
“These people were already very poor and vulnerable before the floods hit. They didn’t have enough food and malnutrition was widespread,” he says. “But now the situation is even more dire. We need to continue working with these communities to build their resilience. Without good health the road to recovery will be so much longer.”
The Pakistan Red Crescent has provided more than 120,000 people with emergency health care, health checks and basic medication in affected districts. Ninety percent of the patients have been woman and children, with almost all suffering from malnutrition. Diarrhoea and skin infections are also common, and cases of malaria and dengue are on the rise.