Six months after catastrophic floods struck Pakistan, more than 10 million people, including children, living in flood-affected areas remain deprived of safe drinking water, according to a UNICEF report.
Families living in flood-hit areas have “no alternative but to drink and use potentially disease-ridden water”, said the UN children’s agency, UNICEF.
“Safe drinking water is not a privilege, it is a basic human right,” said UNICEF Representative in Pakistan, Abdullah Fadil.
“Yet, every day, millions of girls and boys in Pakistan are fighting a losing battle against preventable waterborne diseases and the consequential malnutrition. 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.”
“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,” said Fadil.
Even before the floods, “Only 36% of the country’s water was considered safe for consumption despite the country’s drinking water supply system covering 92% of the population,” the report 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 rely solely on contaminated water from ponds and wells.
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. At the same time, open defecation has increased by more than 14% in flood-affected regions. To make matters worse, the lack of proper toilets disproportionately affects children, adolescent girls and women who are at added risk of shame and harm when defecating outdoors.
Unsafe water and poor sanitation are critical underlying causes of malnutrition. 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. Tragically, a third of all child deaths globally are attributable to malnutrition and half of all undernutrition cases are linked to infections caused by a lack of access to safe water, adequate sanitation and good hygiene. In Pakistan, 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.
In the past six months, UNICEF and partners have provided safe drinking water 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.
Six months after the devastating floods, more than 9.6 million children still require access to essential social services. The agency said less than half of its $173m appeal for aid has been funded so far.