UNICEF: More than 10 million people, including children, living in Pakistan’s flood-affected areas still lack safe drinking water, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned Tuesday (22nd March, 2023).
The floods, which experts attribute to climate change, killed 1,739 people, including 647 children and 353 women, causing an estimated $30 billion in damages.
In a statement, the UN agency said the situation leaves families with no alternative but to “drink and use potentially disease-ridden water.”
Even before the devastating floods, despite the country’s drinking water supply system covering 92 percent of the population, only 36 percent of the water was considered safe for consumption, UNICEF said.
The floods damaged most of the water systems in affected areas, compelling more than 5.4 million people, including 2.5 million children, to solely rely on contaminated water from ponds and wells.
“Safe drinking water is not a privilege, it is a basic human right,” UNICEF Representative in Pakistan, Abdullah Fadil said, calling for donors support, and placing children at the heart of all post-flood recovery and resilience plans.
“Yet, every day, millions of girls and boys in Pakistan are fighting a losing battle against preventable waterborne diseases and the consequential malnutrition,” he said.
“We need the continued support of our donors to provide safe water, build toilets and deliver vital sanitation services to these children and families who need them the most.”
The prolonged lack of safe drinking water and toilets, along with the continued proximity of vulnerable families to bodies of stagnant water are contributing to the widespread outbreaks of waterborne diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea, dengue, and malaria, UNICEF said.
At the same time, it said, open defecation has increased by more than 14 per cent in the flood-affected regions.
“To make matters worse, the lack of proper toilets is disproportionally affecting children, adolescent girls and women who are at added risk of shame and harm when defecating outdoors.”
Unsafe water and poor sanitation are key underlying causes of malnutrition, it said, pointing out that the associated diseases, such as diarrhea, prevent children from getting the vital nutrients they need.
Moreover, malnourished children are more susceptible to waterborne diseases due to already weakened immune systems, which simply perpetuates a vicious cycle of malnutrition and infection, the UN agency said.
Tragically, a third of all child deaths globally are attributable to malnutrition and half of all under nutrition cases are linked to infections caused by a lack of access to safe water, adequate sanitation and good hygiene.
In Pakistan, it said, malnutrition is associated with half of all child deaths.
In flood affected areas, more than 1.5 million boys and girls are already severely malnourished, and the numbers will only rise in the absence of safe water and proper sanitation.
UNICEF said it has been on the ground with partners since the first day of the climate-induced emergency, installing numerous handpumps and water storage facilities.
In the past six months, UNICEF and partners said safe drinking water was provided to nearly 1.2 million children and families and distributed hygiene kits to more than 1.3 million people.
UNICEF also supported the rehabilitation or rebuilding of water supply facilities benefiting over 450,000 people.
Ahead of World Water Day, UNICEF is calling upon the government, donors and partners to urgently:
— allocate resources to restore access to safe drinking water and toilets
— invest in climate-resilient safe drinking water supply facilities and the use of renewable technologies like solar pumping systems.
“It is imperative that the voices and the needs of children in Pakistan are prioritized at all costs and that children are placed at the heart of all post-flood recovery and resilience plans,” Fadil, the UNICEF representative, said.
Six months after the devastating floods, more than 9.6 million children still require access to essential social services, the agency said.
UNICEF’s current appeal of US$173.5 million to provide life-saving support to women and children affected by the floods remains less than 50 percent funded, it was pointed out.