Across Pakistan, many families are still living without proper shelter. As winter temperatures drop, health workers and aid agencies are therefore seeing a rise in the number of pneumonia cases and respiratory tract infections. With the onset of the cold, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is changing its supply emphasis, focusing on the distribution of warm clothing for children. Sarah Crowe, the regional spokesperson for UNICEF, warns that even though the flood waters have retreated in most areas, “this emergency is not over for children here, it has just evolved”.
Pneumonia kills an estimated 1.5 million children annually, and since many youngsters in Pakistan are already malnourished, they struggle to fight off any infection. An officer for the World Health Organization (WHO) said they were spending some of their remaining funds on heaters, nebulizers and oxygen supplies for children brought into hospital units with pneumonia. In areas of Pakistan which may become snowbound, six-month stocks of medicines were also being provided to medical centres.
A spokesperson for Save the Children describes how, even though most families have returned to their villages, they are still living in tents or makeshift structures which are not able to keep out the biting cold. In Charsadda, in the northwestern Khyber-Pakhtoonkh’wa province, the sound of hammering can be heard across the region as families attempt to build make-shift repairs. One father, Rehman Ahmed, has been trying to construct a roof over his three-room house, but is lacking the proper materials. Since he has no money to buy them, he is doing his best to fix lengths of canvas and wood over the gaps. Rehman is worried for his three children, who all have coughs and fevers. Further south in Kabal, a town in the Swat district, another family speaks of their struggle to survive the cold night temperatures. Saira Bibi and her sisters-in-law spend hours in the daytime collecting firewood, but even with the fires they sometimes sit up through the night rubbing their children’s limbs to keep them warm. Saira explains that they lost all their winter clothing and bedding in the floods.
Aid agencies across Pakistan are working to provide warm clothing and blankets, but it is a huge task and in some remote areas, it has only been possible to reach families in need quite recently. In Sindh Province, where the floodwaters have been slowest to recede, isolated communities in the north-west of the province are only now being reached. The small village of Abdul Aziz Chachar is one such place. Here, only three houses remain, while the other sixteen were washed away along with the school and mosque. Until a week ago, the villagers were marooned and sleeping in the open air without blankets or bedding. Apart from one early aid drop, they had received no supplies or help from outside and three children had died over the past months. Now, the community is desperate for emergency supplies such as tents, plastic sheeting and basic building materials. Villages such as Abdul Aziz Chachar highlight how the flood waters may have finally gone, but the need for help and relief is still as urgent as ever.