By Joe Cropp in Pakistan
High levels of existing malnutrition among the flood effected communities of Pakistan is 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,” says Dr Syed Jamal Shah, Health Coordinator IFRC. “The loss of food stocks and the destruction of crops will further increase food insecurity among these communities.”
“Weakened by malnutrition they will be more susceptible to the diseases that can come from overcrowding in relief camps and contaminated water supplies,” he says. “In a vicious cycle, sick children are then likely to become more malnourished.
“Disease and malnutrition have an intimate relationship, leading to child mortality.”
More than nine million people have been affected by the floods in southern Pakistan. They have lost their homes, farmland, and belongings. Almost 670,000 men, women and children have fled to the relative safety of relief camps. Thousands more are camped out on road-sides, facing the risk of deadly diseases from contaminated water.
More than 70 per cent, or 1.6 million acres, of crops in the region have been destroyed, and nearly 78,000 farm animals lost. The majority of farmers in flood affected areas will miss the autumn sowing season, resulting in crops not being harvested for a full year after the disaster.
Large numbers of people have had to survive on little or no food over the past month, with damaged roads making access to many communities impossible.
The Pakistan Red Crescent, and its partner societies from across the movement, have so far been able to reach more than 28,000 families (over 200,000 people) with provisions of food, and emergency supplies such as kitchen kits, tents and tarpaulins.
The food parcels contain ready-to-eat food, as well as staples like wheat, flour, sugar, lentils and cooking oil and can support a family of seven for over two weeks. However, 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 becoming the major issues in the flood affected areas.
The clinic has treated almost 5,000 patients over the past month, providing emergency care, health checks and basic medication. 90 per cent of the patients have been woman and children, with almost all suffering from malnutrition. Diarrhoea and skin infections are also common, and malaria and dengue are the rise.
“These people were already very poor before the floods hit. They didn’t have enough food and malnutrition was widespread,” says Dr Hussain. “But now the situation is even more dire for communities that were already some of the most vulnerable in Pakistan.”
“We need to work with these communities to build their health, to build their resilience. Without good health the road to recovery will be so much longer,” he says.