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Helping Pakistan’s children

Save The Children is scaling up its food programmes in Pakistan to try and offset the dangers of malnutrition among children after the recent floods. Working through mobile clinics, the aid agency is particularly targeting children under 5, as well as feeding mothers, for extra supplementary food.

Despite the importance of breastfeeding to a child’s health, the charity is concerned that around 15 per cent of mothers have stopped feeding their children naturally since the floods, because of the struggle to feed themselves. But resorting to infant formula is extremely dangerous at this time. Mixed with contaminated water or given in dirty bottles, formula milk carries the risks of harbouring water-borne diseases. And children below the age of 2 are the most susceptible to disease and weight loss from diarrhoea.

Save the Children has helped over 500,000 people with medical care and food supplies. But with all the millions of people affected by the floods, aid agencies and international organisations admit they are struggling to reach all those who need help. This is why many ordinary Pakistanis have been giving up their time and money to help relieve the suffering of their countrymen.

After the Kashmir earthquake in 2005, the National Volunteer Movement was set up to register the names and skills of people who were willing to help in the event of disasters. Over 17,000 names were collected on its database over the last four years. But the deputy director of the National Volunteer Movement estimates hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis have been volunteering to provide food and shelter to flood-hit areas, or giving up their time to work in the camps. Others continue to collect donations from around the country.

Many temporary settlements have sprung up in recent weeks to train up volunteer groups. The British charity, Voluntary Services Overseas, has been managing a camp for vulnerable refugees, particularly pregnant women, the sick and elderly and training locals to help there. This has the advantage that the helpers understand the language and culture of those they are overseeing. When manpower is so desperately needed, it is also quicker to find volunteers within Pakistan than from the international community.

Many of Pakistan’s professionals, including teachers, social workers and doctors have been offering their services to help victims. In the Girls’ Technical College in Nowshera in the Khyber-Paktunkhwa province, staff have been spending time with children living at the college, many of whom are too traumatised even to talk. Using supplies from Unicef, one social worker has been working to provide games for the refugee children to try and help them through the distress of their experiences. But it is hard to give individual attention to the children, even though many suffer from recurring nightmares, like 8-year old Syed. All he will say is “I dream about the water.

Aid organisations working across the country say how humbling it has been to see the level of ‘giving and helping’ in the Pakistani society. This supportive culture will be needed in the months and years ahead, as Pakistan fights to overcome the worst disaster in its history.

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