As Pakistan looks to flood recovery, help for children is key

Children walk through a flooded street during monsoon season in Peshawar, Pakistan July 21, 2022. REUTERS/Fayaz Aziz

Children walk through a flooded street during monsoon season in Peshawar, Pakistan July 21, 2022. REUTERS/Fayaz Aziz

How to pay for flood losses and damage – and build resilience to the next disaster – will be key to Pakistan’s future

Abdullah Fadil is a UNICEF representative in Pakistan.

More than four months after Pakistan declared a state of emergency as floods swept the country, the crisis for children and families persists.

Vast areas of villages and cropland remain submerged, and 8 million people – including 4 million children – are still living near contaminated and stagnant floodwaters, risking their survival and wellbeing.

When they return to their villages, they find their homes in ruins.

The rains may have ended, but the disaster is far from over. Nearly 10 million girls and boys desperately need immediate, lifesaving support, and now face a freezing winter without adequate shelter.

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As subzero temperatures begin to hit, some families are burning grass to keep their children warm.

The cold is only the latest in a cascade of crises for Pakistan’s children in flood-affected areas, where 1.6 million children suffer from severe acute malnutrition and another 6 million from stunting, a condition that can cause irreparable damage to children's brains, bodies, and immune systems.

Acute respiratory infections among children have also skyrocketed in flood-stricken areas, while the risk of water-borne disease remains high as many continue to be exposed to unsafe floodwaters.

In addition to immediate threats to their survival, children’s learning is a growing concern, with 2 million children in flood-affected areas unable to access education, adding to the staggering 23 million children in Pakistan who were already out of school.

Today the Government of Pakistan is co-hosting a "Climate Resilient Pakistan" conference in Geneva to address the estimated needs for rehabilitation and reconstruction, totalling $16.3 billion, as well as the climate-induced losses and damages amounting to $30 billion.

As the world comes together in support of Pakistan, it is critical that children are put at the centre of the response, recovery and reconstruction efforts. This is a humanitarian and climate crisis that jeopardizes children’s survival and wellbeing and requires urgent action to save lives and accelerate sustainable recovery.

UNICEF and our partners in Pakistan have been on the ground providing vital support to affected children and families since the start of the crisis – and are continuing to provide life-saving interventions.

But with temperatures quickly falling and children’s immediate survival at risk, the international community must come together to provide children and families with the support they need – to step up and ensure the timely release of additional, sustained and flexible funding before it is too late.

Needs also extend beyond life-saving humanitarian interventions – the need for climate-resilient recovery is essential.

In 2022 alone, Pakistan was hit by scorching heatwaves in the south and melting glaciers in the north, followed by record-breaking floods across the country.

Children suffering from heatstroke have been followed by children wading through waist-high floodwaters in villages consumed by monsoon rains. In Pakistan, the climate crisis cannot be ignored.

At the COP27 climate conference in November we saw a historic acknowledgement of the injustice of climate change and a critical commitment to supporting high-risk countries like Pakistan, which contributes a mere 1% to global greenhouse emissions but bears the brunt of the climate crisis.

The Pakistan conference is a prime opportunity for these commitments to be acted on.

That is why we are calling for three actions from governments, humanitarian actors in-country, donors and partners to ensure children’s survival and wellbeing.

Firstly, with children representing almost half of Pakistan’s population, an investment in children is an investment in the future of Pakistan.

There is a unique opportunity to put children at the centre of the recovery effort and build societal resilience by addressing the persistent vulnerabilities and inequities that girls and boys have faced for far too long.

Real economic recovery and sustained growth can only be achieved if we make the necessary investments to meet the immediate and longer-term needs of children.

Secondly, it is critical that we protect public and communal infrastructure by investing in adaptation and climate-resilient reconstruction that also addresses the economic and livelihood needs of vulnerable communities, including roads, bridges, dams, and farmlands.

Finally, as the government works to rebuild critical infrastructure and strengthen social services, it is imperative that we invest in building human capital and resiliency, particularly in rural Sindh and Balochistan where much of the devastation occurred.

These vulnerable communities need reliable access to essential services such as healthcare, nutrition, education, protection, hygiene, and sanitation, especially those in remote and underserved communities.

Sadly, it likely is only a matter of time before another large-scale climate disaster strikes.

We must do everything in our power to ensure that girls and boys in Pakistan are able to survive and fully recover from the current disaster – and are prepared and protected from the next one.

Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Context or the Thomson Reuters Foundation.


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