A hungry start to life for newest flood victim

Janna Soorjo summoned the energy to give birth in the filthy Makli graveyard that has become her refuge from the floods — but she cannot produce the milk to feed her sickly newborn.

The 26-year-old looks down helplessly at her crying son, who was brought rudely into the world on early Tuesday morning in a makeshift relief camp set up in a historic Sufi burial site in the watery Sindh.

Wearing a tattered red traditional Sindhi dress with a thin scarf covering her head, a frail Janna says she has not eaten enough to produce food for the baby — named Juma after his grandfather.

“I haven’t been able to breastfeed him since he was born. We have nothing else to feed him to stop him crying,” says a weary Janna, sitting on a dirty scarf laid out on the concrete ground in the 14th-century graveyard.

She fled her village close to the submerged town of Sujawal last week with her husband, their two young children — a five-year-old daughter and a boy, three — and her blind mother-in-law, along with their sparse belongings.

Her husband Ahmed Surjo, a farm labourer in the fertile rice and sugarcane fields of Sindh, says that with two cows, three goats and plenty of grain to eat at home, they felt relatively rich.

“Every man among the 100 families in the village had a job to do, had a home to live in and a family to head. Now we are all beggars,” he says.

Clad in shalwar kameez and simple sandals, Ahmed said he has not been able to find work since arriving in the city of Thatta next to Makli, where thousands of families have come to find food and shelter from the floods.

“What shall we do? I can’t beg,” he says.

Health officials said they fear that thousands of babies will be born in the country’s flood-affected areas over the next six months, and are at severe risk of malnourishment because of the scarce food supply.

The floods have so far claimed at least 147 lives in Sindh, officials say, mostly women and children who became ill because of the unhygienic living conditions or from water-borne bacteria.

“The risk factor vis-a-vis the spread of lethal disease increases when a large number of children are stuffed in the crowded atmosphere of the camps and we see no government action to provide them with adequate healthcare facilities,” says former head of the Pakistan Medical Association, Shershah Syed.

Zahida Ali, 25, an oval-faced woman from Janna’s village wearing a purple shalwar suit and blue scarf, gave birth to her baby, Janoo, late Monday night.

“I am hungry, that’s why he is hungry,” she says, with desperation in her eyes.

“I want to eat not to save my life but to keep my baby alive.”