Devastating conditions were triggered by heavy monsoon rains that have so far killed more than 1,500 people
All four of Haliman’s daughters have fallen sick after she left her flood-ravaged house in her village in Qambar Shahdadkot district in the Sindh province of Pakistan. Two of her daughters have a recurring fever and two have skin diseases.
“I have never seen such diseases. The skin on my eldest daughter’s feet is peeling off,” said Haliman, sitting on a charpoy in a girls’ college in Larkana, where she had sought refuge along with a hundred others. “It is because of the floods and she waded through the flood water with me for hours. It is not only her feet, but her back, thighs and neck have bumpy rashes.”
Devastating floods in Pakistan triggered by heavy monsoon rains have killed more than 1,500 people, including 528 children, and affected about 16 million children, according to Unicef. Authorities say the waters that have washed away homes, roads, crops, livestocks and people will take at least three to six months to recede.
Floods have also brought water-borne diseases. “Millions of people are living under the open sky,” the Pakistani prime minister, Shehbaz Sharif, told the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, last week. “Water is giving rise to the water-borne diseases.” He has urged the world to focus on the impact on children.
Haliman said her daughters are suffering. “The skin diseases are getting worse and the fever of my daughters is also not going down. I am not getting any reasonable treatment here.”
At least 3.4 million girls and boys remain in need of immediate, lifesaving support. Unicef Pakistan’s representative, Abdullah Fadil, warned that without a massive increase in support, many more children would die. “The situation for Pakistani families is beyond bleak, and malnourished children are battling diarrhoea and malaria, dengue fever, and many are suffering from painful skin conditions,” he said.
Rawat Khan, 47, holding her daughter Iqra, whose ear became discoloured and blemished with small, pus-filled spots, said these diseases were not common before but now all the children were getting sick. Her son’s chest was swollen too.
“The doctors are asking us to get tests done in Karachi … but we cannot afford that. We don’t have money. We lost our houses and savings in the floods,” she said.
“We only saved our lives. We could save nothing else. We are helpless to see our children falling sick and we are unable to do anything about it. The government has failed us.”
Zeeshan Chandio, who comes from an affected village in Sindh province, held his son Nadeem in his arms. “I too want help and I don’t know what’s wrong with my son. His stomach is not well and belly is swollen.”
Dr Faiq Ali, who arranged a medical camp in Warah, a village in Qambar Shahdadkot, one of the most affected districts in Sindh province, said he saw more than 300 children on Sunday and all had various conditions such as malaria, diarrhoea and skin diseases.
“These all are water-borne diseases. You see standing water in the flooded areas where mosquitoes are rampant and people don’t have clean drinking water and they walk in the contaminated water and drink the same water. Everything is so bleak,” Ali said.
He added that a large part of the population was affected and this was on a large scale.
“Sadly, the government is not active in a way that it should be as we have not seen such disasters before. The National Disaster and Management Authority is also not playing an active role. We will see a bigger disaster in the shape of diseases in near future if the government stays inactive,” Ali warned.
Many flood-affected victims in Larkana said they were living in the constituency of the foreign minister, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, and he had not visited them. They asked for his help for their children.
Jaffarabad, one of the most affected towns in Balochistan, which along with Sindh are the worst-hit provinces, represents the same bleak image where children are falling sick.
A woman, who requested anonymity, consoled her child in her lap. “We don’t get medicine, treatment, food or anything for our children. My son has been vomiting for days but I don’t know the cause of his sickness,” she said.
Fadil said that Pakistani children were paying the price for a climate disaster that was not of their own making and the world should help them so they could rebuild the lives of millions of vulnerable children in the coming months.
“Apart from rise in diseases, education for children is our main concern,” he said. “In 81 calamity-hit districts, the children are missing schools and even before this disaster in Pakistan more than 50% children are out of school.
“We don’t know when they will go back to school and that’s worrying and particularly for girls in these districts, whether their parents will send them to school or get them married. In Pakistan, early marriages are nothing new.”
Zeeshan Ahmed Khan, nine, was studying in grade 3 when his school was flooded with water. “I got new books when the new session started but they got damaged in the flood,” he said.
Allah Warayu had just moved to 4th class when half of his school was drowned in water. “I miss school and my friends but I have no idea where they are. Only my cousin is here with me and I have no idea where and how my other classmates are,” he added.
Fadil said he had seen girls reading and studying in tents and camps for the first time in their lives.
“I have seen young girls who, for the first time in their lives, hold pencils and books in their hands in the tents. They asked us to continue it. This was the most powerful and joyous thing I had seen. It must continue it and make sure all girls and children go to school.”