By Raheela Chaudhry
BENAZIRABAD DISTRICT, Pakistan – 29 December 2011 – In the Quaid-e-Awam relief camp, 11-year-old Tariq Ali’s eyes are rimmed with shadows.
When monsoon flooding struck Sindh Province earlier this year, Tariq was one of the 2.4 million children affected. Now, as families begin to return to their devastated homes, Tariq faces even greater challenges than most.
Tariq is disabled; he was struck by polio when only an infant. The illness left him paralysed in an environment where accommodations for disabled children are virtually non-existent. Then, a few years ago, his mother died. And when the monsoon rains hit his house in September, the roof collapsed, killing his father.
A cousin who saved Tariq is now his only support.
Putting children first
Children with disabilities are only some of the vulnerable children for whom protection is essential in the wake of a disaster. Children without adult guardians and those separated from their families also require special support.
Here in Quaid-e-Awam Relief Camp, UNICEF and its implementing partner, the Potohar Organisation for Development Advocacy, are committed to finding and assisting children who require special protective services.
UNICEF and its partners are also setting up child protection committees in areas affected by the flooding. These committees consist of local residents who are trained to identify and monitor vulnerable children and provide them with vital support.
To date, 124 committees, with a total of 2,600 members, have been formed to help ensure that, even after the flood response ends, children like Tariq do not slip through the cracks.
“The fact is children are last in line, behind grown-ups, when it comes to accessing essential services, both in the aftermath of disaster, and afterwards,” says UNICEF Child Protection Officer Nabia Farrah. “It is vital for adults to be sensitized to the special needs of vulnerable children and to take responsibility for child protection in their own neighbourhoods.”
Working hard to recover
Asif is only 14 years old, but he is already responsible for the well-being of his family. He and his sisters, 8-year-old Saima and 6-year-old and Seema, lost their father to illness earlier this year. Only weeks later, the floods came.
Asif’s mother got them out of the house just before it collapsed. But after they moved into a relief camp, she fell ill.
“She lost weight,” Asif recalls. “There was no doctor there and she died.”
Asif is now the head of their household. “We don’t have any more tears left,” he says.
Still, Asif is working hard to ensure his family will recover. He has made sure his sisters attend a UNICEF-supported temporary learning centre (TLC) where they are learning to read and write and to protect themselves from illness. There, Seema and Saima also receive psychosocial care, and have the opportunity to play with other children. They are carefully supervised by staff trained to identify and monitor vulnerable children and connect them to health, education and psychosocial support services.
Education is the key to the future
This year’s floods have left 733,000 children out of school, and damaged over 9,300 schools – 60 per cent of the total number in the area. Returning children to school quickly is essential so this interruption to their education does not become permanent.
Monsoon floods in 2010 preceded this year’s disaster. The successive emergencies have wiped out livelihoods for millions of people, putting affected children at risk of exploitation through child labour, trafficking and sexual abuse. The danger of exploitation is even greater for vulnerable children like Tariq, Asif and his sisters.
TLCs are a key part of UNICEF’s efforts to protect these children, and to equip them with the education needed to keep themselves healthy and safe. At present, some 96,700 children, almost half of them girls, are enrolled in over 2,000 UNICEF-supported TLCs in 10 flood-affected districts.
The disruption caused by the floods also offers an opportunity to educate children who have never before been to school. Of those children attending UNICEF-supported TLCs, 40 per cent had not attended school before.
Now, as the waters recede, 19 per cent of the TLCs have been placed in areas of return to ensure education remains available while schools are closed. UNICEF is also distributing emergency education and recreation kits and School-in-a-Box kits, which contain all the materials needed to provide education. Over 2,600 teachers have been trained to use these supplies and to provide psychosocial support and hygiene education.
Nevertheless, many children have not yet been reached with these essential services. UNICEF urgently requires US$ 50.3 million to fund education, health, sanitation, nutrition and protection initiatives for flood-affected children through the critical six months following the disaster. To date, only 39 per cent of this amount has been received, leaving countless vulnerable children without access to education and at risk of exploitation and abuse.