ISLAMABAD: The United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) has warned that health facilities, in the aftermath of the devastating floods, are reporting alarming levels of acute malnutrition among children in the affected areas, and called for support from the international community to reach over seven million children, adolescent girls and women who are in need of nutritious services.

While more than one in nine children under five admitted to health facilities in the flood-affected areas of Sindh and Balochistan were found to be suffering from severe acute malnutrition, over one million people are in need of safe drinking water and over 6m in need of sanitation services, the UN agency said in a statement.

Unicef also called for integrating nutrition into government’s health delivery services and increased allocation of government funding for nutrition in the long term. Of the over 22,000 children screened by health professionals since September this year at health facilities in flood-affected areas, more than 2,630 were diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition, or more than one in nine children, it said.

One in nine children admitted to health facilities in flood-hit areas of Sindh, Balochistan

Estimates based on the pre-existing malnutrition prevalence of the latest National Nutrition Survey indicate that close to 1.6m children could be suffering from severe acute malnutrition and in need of urgent treatment in the flood-hit areas of Sindh and Balochistan. Malnourished pregnant women are also at risk of giving birth to low birth-weight babies who will be malnourished.

“We cannot sound this alarm loudly enough,” Unicef representative in Pakistan Abdullah Fadil said, adding: “We are facing a nutrition emergency that is threatening the lives of millions of children. Without urgent action, we are heading towards a catastrophic outcome that is threatening children’s very development and survival. We are grateful for the global community’s support so far, but much more is needed to save children’s lives.”

Even before the devastating floods, half of the children living in the now flood-affected districts were already stunted — an irreversible condition that stunts the growth, physical and cognitive development of children.

Likewise, more than 40 per cent of mothers suffered from anaemia. Over 25m children and women across Pakistan, including more than 7m children and women in flood-affected areas, require immediate access to essential nutrition services.

Together with the government, World Food Programme, and other partners, Unicef has established 271 outpatient therapeutic treatment centres for prevention, detection and treatment of cases of severe acute malnutrition and other forms of malnutrition. The UN agency is also working to expand nutrition services through 73 mobile health teams in the 84 flood-affected districts, coupled with health, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and protection services that are critical to save children’s lives.

Unicef has revised its appeal to $175.3m, of which $35m will go to lifesaving nutrition services and $58m to essential WASH services. Only 13 per cent of the appeal for children and families in Pakistan has been funded.

Published in Dawn, October 23rd, 2022

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