Karachi: Nawo squints in the early morning sunlight as her 3-year-old daughter, Sarita, walks barefoot through the dirt. Around them, the land is scarred and piled high with the ruins of their home.
Theirs was one of hundreds of thousands of houses in Sindh Province destroyed by the torrential rains in August and September. An estimated 4.8 million people were affected, half of them children. Many had just started to rebuild their lives after major flooding the previous year.
A series of tragedies
Nawo lost nearly everything in this year’s flood. The small mud home she shared with her siblings was destroyed by the rising waters; only one room remains.
She used to support her children by making and selling traditional bed sheets. Now, she spends her days trying to rebuild the house before winter arrives. She has been forced to send her eldest son, 12-year-old Mukesh, to work as a labourer to support the family.
“I tried to rescue my four children when the water from heavy rains entered our house,” Nawo recalls. “We were lucky enough to be picked up by a boat and ended up in a camp on the roadside.”
But even after rescue, tragedy struck the family. Nawo’s 5-year-old daughter, Guddi, fell victim to water-borne disease. “She got diarrhoea and died in my arms,” Nawo says.
Nawo benefited from the services available in the UNICEF-supported camp where they took refuge. She and her surviving children received clean drinking water, hygiene kits, and health and nutrition services. Perhaps most importantly, she was among the 1.2 million people who attended hygiene sessions supported by UNICEF, where she received information to protect her children from disease and poor sanitation.
“Life in camps was better,” she says. “I learnt about cleanliness and how to protect my children from water-borne diseases like diarrhoea. My children had the chance to go to school for the first time in their lives.”
But now they are back in the village of Bachal Mangiro, where Nawo no longer has access to these kinds of support.
Struggle for resources
Basic services have always been poor in remote villages like Bachal Mangiro, and the flood has damaged what little infrastructure existed.
As families return to their homes, it is vital the services they received in camps follow them, to help them survive the harsh winter. Women-headed households, like Nawo’s, are among the most vulnerable and will require additional support.
As an uneducated single mother in a conservative society, where men conduct most public matters, Nawo struggles to obtain the resources to rebuild her life and small business.
“We are living under very bad conditions,” Nawo says as she tends to her daughter Sarita, who is now sick with diarrhoea. “There is still flood water outside our door, we don’t have much food and clean water, and there is no doctor in this village.”
Lack of funding
UNICEF is working with its local partners to provide services to children returning home after the flood.
To date, UNICEF has ensured that almost 800,000 people affected by the 2011 floods – over half of them children – have access to safe drinking water. Some 14,300 latrines have been constructed, benefiting 416,000 people, and 1,658 temporary learning centres have been set up for displaced children. Many of these services are being now being provided in areas of return, ensuring children continue to have access to basic education, sanitation and health care after they leave the camps.
But these services require funding, and UNICEF has as yet received only 37 per cent of the US$ 50.3 million requested to support the immediate needs of children and women through winter.
“A major flood can devastate these poor rural communities for years. Nawo and other families like hers have endured two such disasters in the space of a year,” says Kristen Elsby, UNICEF Pakistan Chief of Communication. “Without funding, we will not be able to provide these children and their families with the health, sanitation and education services they need to live lives of health, opportunity and well-being.”
For now, Nawo worries about Sarita’s health and Mukesh’s future. Until additional help is available, she is protecting her children the only way she knows how: by squatting in the dirt and shaping the soil with her fingers, raising a new mud wall from the ground.
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