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Pakistan’s children at risk in their millions

The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon has visited Pakistan and declared the disaster “heart-wrenching” and the worst he has ever witnessed. He again urged countries around the world to offer more aid. Of the 460 million dollars needed to deal with the immediate needs, only 125 million has so far been pledged.

Flooding is now causing havoc across the south of Pakistan and heavy monsoon rain is continuing to fall, so areas where water had receded are being re-submerged. The Pakistani government has said that 20 million people have been affected by the floods, with over 700,000 homes destroyed, 1.4 million acres (557 hectares) of agricultural land covered and 10,000 cows killed.

International organisations are stepping forward to help the flood-stricken country. Nato is helping coordinate the transport of aid around Pakistan and the World Bank has said it will loan 900 million dollars to help the recovery of the country.

But for the present, there is grave concern about the immediate health of Pakistan’s people and particularly the children, where urgent supplies are needed. Without clean water, up to 3.5 million children are at risk from fatal water-borne diseases.

The UN has reported the first case of cholera, which causes diarrhoea and severe dehydration and can kill a child within hours if left untreated. Save the Children has also noted cases of pneumonia, diarrhoea and malaria. Other diseases threatening Pakistan’s children are typhoid fever and hepatitis A and E, which are caught by ingesting food or drink which has been contaminated by faeces.

With many roads still closed, helicopters often provide the only method of bringing aid to remote villages and though the army remains active, many Pakistanis who have not been reached are showing their desperation. In Sukkur, victims blocked a highway with burning straw and sticks to highlight their plight and demand more help. Throughout the country, anger has grown over the handling of the disaster and the Pakistani Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, fears the growing desperation of flood victims could play into the hands of extremists.

Aid agencies say the disaster is so enormous, it is proving almost impossible to keep up with the ever-mounting numbers of people in need of assistance. In one UNHCR office in the province of Balochistan, the UNHCR head coordinating humanitarian relief admitted the number of people who require shelter, food and water is growing daily. Tented sites have already been set up and this one UNHCR office estimates it has helped 46,000 people, but reckons there are a further 90,000 in the area still in urgent need and supplies are dwindling, because fresh deliveries cannot arrive fast enough.

The floods in Pakistan are being labelled the worst in the region for 80 years and the response to this immense disaster in the next four or five days will prove critical.

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