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UN says 10 million without safe water in flood-affected Pakistan

Families living in flood-affected areas have “no choice but to drink and use potentially contaminated water,” says UNICEF.

About six months after the catastrophic floods in Pakistan, more than 10 million people still lack access to safe drinking water in areas hit by the record-breaking rainfall, according to a United Nations report.

Families living in flood-stricken areas have “no choice but to drink and use potentially disease-ridden water,” the UN Children’s Agency, or UNICEF, said in the report on Tuesday.

“Every day, millions of girls and boys in Pakistan fight a losing battle against water-preventable diseases and resulting malnutrition,” said Abdullah Fadil, UNICEF’s representative in Pakistan.

The worst flooding in Pakistan started in June due to heavy rainfall. They killed at least 1,739 people, including 647 children, and affected 33 million people.

At the peak of the flooding – caused by a “monsoon on steroids”, as described by UN chief Antonio Guterres – more than a third of the country was inundated.

According to UNICEF’s report, a majority of the country’s population did not have access to clean drinking water even before the floods. The disaster subsequently caused damage to most of the water systems in the affected areas and forced more than 5.4 million people, including 2.5 million children, to “rely solely on polluted water from ponds and wells”.

“Only 36 percent of the country’s water was considered safe for consumption, despite the country’s drinking water supply system covering 92 percent of the population,” the report said.

The report highlighted the plight of families living close to standing water formed after the floods, making them vulnerable to waterborne diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea, dengue and malaria. These diseases prevent children from getting the vital nutrients they need and plunge them into a “vicious cycle of malnutrition and infection”.

UNICEF said malnutrition is associated with half of all child deaths in Pakistan. More than 1.5 million boys and girls are already severely malnourished, and that number is expected to rise without clean water and proper sanitation.

“Open defecation has increased by more than 14 percent in flood-affected regions,” the report said. “The lack of proper toilets disproportionately affects children, teenage girls and women who are at extra risk of embarrassment and harm if they defecate outdoors.”

The agency said less than half of its $173 million appeal for aid has been granted so far.

Pakistan suffered financial losses of at least $30 billion as a result of the floods. In January, the country secured more than $10 billion in pledges from the international community to rebuild itself.

But it is also in the midst of economic turmoil as it waits for $1.1 billion from the International Monetary Fund.

“We need the continued support of our donors to provide safe water, build toilets and provide essential sanitation to these children and families who need them most,” said Fadil.