The floods in Pakistan have submerged roughly one fifth of the country. The families that once had homes and means of earning are now living in tents and at the mercy of aid. The floods will eventually begin to recede but they have brought forth the poverty-stricken nation’s hidden miseries-the health of women and children.
One of the most basic needs to man is water, and as Shakespeare rightfully said “Water! Water! Everywhere but not a drop to drink”, such is literally the case with the flood survivors who don’t have access to clean drinking water. The restoration of water supply is crucial to prevent disease such as diarrhea amongst children.
The problems faced by women and young girls in these camps are of grave concern. The health and sanitary condition is appalling, as some camps have no bathing facilities. Whereas men and young children can bathe outdoors, women cannot avail that option. When the flood hit, the people were more concerned about their lives so they did not have the time to pick up their belongings, so majority don’t have a change of clothes. The situation worsens for menstruating and pregnant women.
Apart from the religious notions of covering up and not mingling with men outside family, women in Pakistan are considered Family Honor. So survival in these camps is culturally shocking to most women who have not been around men who were not family, now they are amongst hundreds of strangers. In these camps arrangements for such privacy are not feasible where strangers sleep in the same tent and at times next to one another. Thus, most parents don’t feel the environment is very suitable for their daughters in the current circumstances.
According to the data provided by UNFPA, of the 18 million people that have been displaced by the floods, 70 percents of them are women. And of these 500,000 women are pregnant, which roughly translates to 1700 of them going into labor each day and about 250 of the needing complicated medical procedures. These women are giving birth in flimsy crowded shelters that are surrounded by unhygienic flood water. Since the first few hours of a child’s life in terms of development are the riskiest, these new-borns are in grave danger. According to an estimate of Save the Children about 100000 women are due to give birth next month. This is a major concern has the disaster has affected millions and we don’t want it to affect the lives of half a million babies who have not even been born.
There is also tremendous concern for waterborne disease coupled with diarrhea, dehydration and malnutrition which can affect the flood survivor children. According to an estimate some 72,000 children are at a high risk of death.
The schools in the flood affected areas have been either destroyed or are being used as shelter, in either case; they have left nearly two million children without schooling for the start of the school year. As education is a primary tool for poverty reduction, the future of the nation is at stake!
Women in these camps have roughly ten children each and are even worse off than they were before the floods. Before they had concerns only for their livelihood now flood had brought along more problems such as food insecurity, stress and a complete lack of hygiene. However, a flipside to it is that the health workers now have greater access to these women in these camps and can educate them about contraception and family planning which they would otherwise have missed.
The funds and relief have started coming in, but much needs to be done. The agencies responsible need to ensure that it reaches its destination. These people are trying hard to brave out the floods and continue on with their lives. We need to consider in helping the children continue their education, help them rebuild their houses, communities, businesses- their future!