One in nine children under the age of 5 admitted to health care facilities in Pakistan’s flood-hit areas are found to be suffering from “severe acute” malnutrition, according to a UN report.
The report released by UNICEF on Friday warned that health facilities are reporting alarming levels of severe acute malnutrition among children in the provinces of southern Sindh and southwestern Balochistan, the two worst-hit regions in last month’s devastating floods.
In total, of the more than 22,000 children screened by health workers since September at health facilities in flood-affected regions, more than 2,630 were diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition.
Severe acute malnutrition, also known as severe wasting, is a life-threatening condition in which children are too thin for their height, resulting in weakened immune systems.
Estimates based on the pre-existing malnutrition prevalence in the latest National Nutrition Survey indicate that close to 1.6 million children may be suffering from severe acute malnutrition and are in need of urgent treatment in flood-affected areas of Sindh and Balochistan, the report said.
Read A month later, Pakistan’s flood victims continue to scurry away
Malnourished pregnant women are also at risk of giving birth to low birth weight babies who will be malnourished.
Devastating rains and floods last month submerged a third of Pakistan, killed nearly 1,700 people and caused a colossal $30 billion loss in terms of infrastructure and agriculture.
About 33 million people out of the country’s nearly 230 million people were affected by the historic floods, with tens of thousands still taking refuge in shelters.
“We cannot raise this alarm loud enough,” Abdullah Fadil, UNICEF representative in Pakistan, said in a statement.
“We are facing a nutrition crisis that threatens the lives of millions of children. Without urgent action, we are heading for a catastrophic outcome that threatens children’s development and survival,” he added.
Even before the devastating floods, half of the children living in the now flood-affected districts were already stunted – an irreversible condition that stunts children’s growth, physical and cognitive development.
Likewise, according to the report, more than 40% of the mothers suffered from anemia.
Only 13% of UNICEF appeals have been funded so far
Over 25 million children and women across Pakistan, including more than 7 million children and women in flood-affected areas, require immediate access to essential nutrition services.
A lack of safe drinking water and hygiene increases the risk of wastage, as unsafe water can cause diarrhea and prevent children from getting the nutrients they need to survive, the UN agency said.
Over 5 million people, it claimed, no longer have safe sources of drinking water and more than 6 million no longer have household sanitation. As a result, the proportion of people practicing open defecation has increased from a fifth before the floods to over a third of the affected population.
At the same time, waterborne diseases are spreading rapidly among children and families, and cases of acute watery diarrhea, malaria, dengue fever, skin conditions, respiratory infections and other diseases are also increasing sharply.
Read more WHO is setting up 19 nutrition stabilization centers in flood-affected areas
In response, the report went on to say that UNICEF supplies 2 million liters of clean drinking water every day, rehabilitates water systems, distributes hygiene kits and provides sanitation and hygiene services.
UNICEF has revised its appeal to $173.5 million, of which $35 million will go to life-saving nutrition services and $58 million to essential water, sanitation and hygiene services.
But only 13% of UNICEF’s appeal to children and families in Pakistan has been funded so far, it added.
UNICEF reiterated its call for support from the international community to reach over 7 million children, adolescent girls and women in need of nutrition services, over 5 million people in need of clean drinking water and over 6 million “in need of sanitation services .”
It also called for the integration of nutrition into government health services and increased allocation of government funding for nutrition in the long term.