High levels of malnutrition among children in communities affected by last year’s massive floods in Pakistan’s Sindh province remain one of the most challenging humanitarian problems six months since the disaster first hit the Asian country, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said today.
The Sindh Department of Health today released new data on the nutrition crisis, showing global acute malnutrition rates of 23.1 per cent among children between the ages of 6 and 59 months in flood-affected areas of northern Sindh and 21.2 per cent in southern Sindh.
The rates are well above the UN World Health Organization’s (WHO) 15 per cent emergency threshold level, which triggers a humanitarian response, UNICEF said in an update. Records from northern Sindh revealed a severe acute malnutrition rate of 6.1 per cent. The Sindh provincial government estimates that about 90,000 children aged 6 to 59 months are malnourished.
The global acute malnutrition rate shows the number of children in a given population who are moderately and severely malnourished and have not gained the required weight for their height. The severe acute malnutrition rate is an indicator of advanced state of acute malnourishment.
Children with severe acute malnutrition need immediate treatment and are ten times more likely to die before their fifth birthday than healthy children. If they do survive, their development and learning is poor and their income earning potential as adults is reduced, according to UNICEF.
“UNICEF is extremely concerned about this finding and is working with the federal and provincial government authorities concerned to reach and treat these children,” said Pascal Villeneuve, the acting UNICEF representative in Pakistan.
“The floods may have uncovered the hidden face of child malnutrition in Pakistan, but we see this as an opportunity to scale up a sustained response that will benefit children in the short and long term. UNICEF is committed to working with its partners to ensure that their needs are met,” he added.
Nutritional surveys in flood-affected areas were carried out in the provinces of Sindh, Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. Results from the other provinces are pending.
UNICEF and partners in the nutrition cluster are working with the government of Sindh to respond to the crisis. The response will focus on acute malnutrition management and prevention over a period of 18 months.
Over the past six months since the onset of the floods, UNICEF has been providing clean water to 3.5 million people daily, and sanitation facilities to more than 1.9 million people.
The agency worked with partners to immunize more than 9 million children against measles and polio and provided about 8.5 million children with Vitamin A supplementation. A total of around 120,000 malnourished women and children have also been enrolled in various feeding programmes.
Temporary learning centres are benefiting around 180,000 children, and 700 child-friendly spaces have been established and are benefiting 200,000 children, protecting them from risks of abuse, neglect and exploitation.
“As the Pakistan flood crisis continues to evolve and attention for the emergency fades, there is a danger that people of the world will forget that Pakistani children still need a great deal of help,” said Mr. Villeneuve.
“Children now face the task of rebuilding their lives and homes with their families, which means that many of them will work instead of going to school. The long months with little food have compromised their ability to stay healthy and fight off diseases.”
To date, UNICEF has received $198 million in donations and pledges out of the $251 million required.