Pakistan’s floods continue to target millions of children

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By Webdesk

We never had much. But before last summer, most of the people living in my neighborhood in Pakistan’s Sindh province were able to get by, were safe and could afford to feed our children.

Everything changed last summer when heavy rains and extreme flooding – worse than anything I’ve ever seen in my life – brought misery to us all.

I don’t know anyone whose house hasn’t been at least partially destroyed. Fortunately, two rooms in my house were spared, but an extended family had their whole house washed away, so we moved them out and I slept in a car on the side of the road.

In the hospital where I worked for less than a year, I felt like a soldier on the battlefield. We were the only functioning health clinic in the area, and as the water flooded the villages, people flooded our corridors. With roads flooded, we ran out of medicines we needed to fight for the lives of children and their families.

Imagine having to make life or death decisions in seconds. Then imagine having to do this while wading through 4 feet of water in the hospital—almost up to my hips—and walking 6 miles to work on flooded roads. Imagine having to do this while sleeping in your car. This was my life.

We were overloaded with patients; I’ve never seen anything like it. In addition to medicines, there was a shortage of beds and mothers squatting in the swampy corridors with babies in their arms. Just when I felt I was losing heart, I had to force myself to keep going – children’s lives depended on it.

Because the floods brought mosquitoes, malaria was everywhere. It is generally accepted that a patient with a temperature of 106F (41C) is on the verge of death – and with a thermal gun I have taken one person’s temperature at 109F (43C).

We were running out of antipyretic tablets to reduce the fever. At one point I started splitting them in half to try and help as many kids as possible while we waited for more help. I also started making my own fever syrups by crushing the medicines we had and boiling them in water. But at some point there was nothing for it but to sponge off the patients and hope for the best.

With children and families forced to sleep in the open in freezing temperatures, we also saw a huge spike in pneumonia and seasonal flu. Adults may be able to fight these temperatures, but younger children cannot because their immune systems are still fragile and weak. It can be difficult for them to survive.

Some children turned up injured as parts of their homes collapsed on them, such as the child who was knocked unconscious after a wall collapsed on top of him. Fortunately, I managed to resuscitate him, but only after spending longer on CPR than I think I’ve ever done on a single patient before. It felt like a miracle, like treating a boy with a urinary tract infection who hadn’t urinated in two days and was screaming in pain.

It took several months before we were able to get more medical supplies from Save the Children, thanks to the construction of a temporary route through the floodwaters. I was so relieved, but it wasn’t long before secondary health issues kicked in.

Before the floods, about 20 percent of children visiting the outpatient clinic on any given day were said to be malnourished. That’s now up to 70 percent, so obviously this is a very alarming situation.

A girl, just 10 months old, was desperately dehydrated, weak and lethargic when her mother brought her to me. She suffered from severe acute malnutrition. We put her on our therapeutic feeding program and admitted her for treatment – ​​and eventually she gained weight and started to recover.

Children in Sindh province are lucky if they eat once a day. Crops have been destroyed, as have the grain stores that were a source of income for so many families here. My territory was effectively an island for months. People who used to get along now depend entirely on charity for survival.

It has now been seven months and the water level is still so high that people cannot return to their homes. Fortunately, I was able to return to my home, but that is not the case for many people who still live in tents. I have no idea if or when my family will be able to rebuild the destroyed part of our house.

Last summer’s battle may be over, but the war is still going on. It shocks me to the core of my heart that this kind of destruction could become the new normal.

We are grateful for the support of Save the Children and other organizations. But my community needs more than just medicine to keep us alive – we need our homes to be rebuilt; we need to get back on our feet to earn a living to feed our children. We need a long-term plan from international leaders and we need to be able to protect ourselves against future disasters.

We can’t experience this again.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial view of Al Jazeera.

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