Sunday October 02, 2022

Children of the flood

By Editorial Board
September 21, 2022

Natural calamities hit children and women the hardest, and the recent floods in Pakistan have been no different. Children in the flood-affected areas are now facing the worst prospects in terms of their education and healthcare including vaccination. Their number is in the millions and their precarious situation calls for an immediate plan that must be children-specific rather than a general plan for all. The coming months are going to be harsh with the impending winter and looming diseases. As the aftermath of these floods unfolds gradually, one of the most serious toll will be paid by children who were already malnourished when the tragedy struck. They are and will remain in the coming months and years the most at risk. More than one-thirds of the fatalities from the floods are children and as Unicef has estimated there are more than 16 million children in the flood-affected areas needing relief, 3.4 million of them needing life-saving support. While food and drinking water is in short supply, it is lifesaving drugs that will make a major difference in their fight against bacterial and infectious diseases. Dengue fever and diarrhea are more harmful to malnourished children and can be deadly if an immediate treatment is not at hand.

Malnourished children are not healthy enough to withstand even the slightest onslaught of an ailment. With their schools destroyed and basic health centres dysfunctional, it will be a dark future in front of the children of the flood affected. More than the trauma itself, it is the post-traumatic stress that takes a heavy toll in such catastrophic events. In a society where poverty is rampant and inflation is on the rise, temporary relief in the shape of food and water may be helpful just for a few days. The real challenges of survival emerge from the receding waters and waterlogged lands.

Children whose meagre dwellings are no more there and whose parents are in a much worse shape than they were before the flood will find themselves at the mercy of the elements. Their disadvantages have suddenly multiplied manifold. Pakistan is a country with – as Unicef put it – nearly 40 per cent children having stunted growth, placing Pakistan at one of the lowest rungs of children’s development. This stunting results in an entire generation especially in rural areas not meeting its full potential. The difference in earning levels in Pakistan is widening rapidly as only the rich have the means to nurture a healthy offspring. This disparity is becoming all too visible in the wake of the floods. All this calls for a massive and child-specific plan for rehabilitation in all affected areas. The uprooting of millions of people has reduced food security for children too and hunger may force them to become victims of child abuse and gender-based violence. Then there is also a question of those who have been separated from their families. There have already been reports of assaults on girls and women. If these reports are correct, there is also an immediate need to establish protection centres where the vulnerable can take refuge from violence.