(Formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Children risk pneumonia as funding dries up

Children are most vulnerable to cold
Rahat Dar/IRIN

The sound of hammering can be heard all over flood-hit areas of Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber-Pakhtoonkh’wa province. In his village outside the town of Charsadda, Rehman Ahmed is trying to fix lengths of canvas and some pieces of wood to cover the large gaps in the roof of his three-room house. “The problem is I lack money to buy proper materials – but we just have to stop the cold coming through somehow,” he told IRIN.



Ahmed’s three children all have a hacking cough and fever, and he is concerned they may deteriorate. “The doctors say they need to be kept warm, but how can we do that when our house is still only partially repaired after the floods?”



The minimum temperature in Charsadda has dropped over the past week to about five degrees Celsius, and winds at night exacerbate the cold. However, in the province’s Swat district temperatures are already below freezing.



“We have been able to build only one room of our house. The men have to sleep on the verandah adjoining it and for a family of 12 to live like this is very uncomfortable,” said Saira Bibi, in the Kabal tehsil (administrative unit – sub-district) of Swat.



Children at risk



“Winter will bring with it new threats for children and their families - areas are likely to be cut off and the cold will sharply increase the numbers of acute respiratory infections and exacerbate high rates of malnutrition, which are two of the biggest killers of children," Sarah Crowe, regional spokeswoman for the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) South Asia, told IRIN. “We have started to try and meet those changing needs with the distribution of winter clothing for children but lack of funds is preventing us from doing our job effectively.



"There is a real sense that the world has forgotten Pakistan's children. Funds that were trickling in have now virtually stopped. This often happens with floods as there is a sense that once the waters retreat, people get on with their lives again. [But] that's not the case, this emergency is not over for children here, it has just evolved,” Crowe said.



Doctors on the ground agree. “We have more and more people, especially flood victims, who lack proper shelter, coming in with upper respiratory tract infections and other sickness,” said Khawar Khan, who works as a general practitioner at a small private clinic in Charsadda.



Food shortages



Gul Afridi, media and advocacy officer for the World Health Organization (WHO), told IRIN: “We are using remaining funds from Diarrhoeal Treatment Centres [DTC] on a case by case basis to support special units in hospitals to provide quality care 24 hours a day, especially to children with pneumonia symptoms. Heaters, nebulizers and oxygen are to be provided according to assessed need. Medicines for pneumonia are being provided in advance for six months in areas that may be snowbound.”



In a statement issued on 28 November, Save the Children UK warned that children in flood-hit areas risked pneumonia as winter set in. Mohammed Qazilbash, spokesman for the organization, said: “Although many of the displaced families have now returned to their villages, they continue to live in tents and makeshift structures. A small tent houses about six to eight people, and is clearly useless against the biting cold. There is also a shortage of food which means children are going hungry, increasing their vulnerability to pneumonia and other diseases.”



Meanwhile, flood victims continue to take desperate measures in a bid to survive. “I and my sisters-in-law spend hours trying to collect enough firewood to keep the children warm. Sometimes we sit up all night rubbing the bodies of the youngest ones to keep them warm. The fact we lost all our warm clothing and bedding in the flood makes things harder,” said Saira Bibi, a flood survivor in Kabal, a town in Swat district.



kh/at/mw

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