Survey shows almost a quarter of children under five are malnourished in Sindh province, six months after floods

Women dry clothes on a road partially submerged by floodwaters in Karampur, Pakistan, Aug. 30, 2010. Athar Hussain / Reuters

By Declan Walsh in Islamabad, www.guardian.co.uk
Thursday 27 January 2011 09.56 GMT

A "humanitarian crisis of epic proportions" is unfolding in flood-hit areas of southern Pakistan where malnutrition rates rival those of African countries affected by famine, according to the United Nations.

In Sindh province, where some villages are still under water six months after the floods, almost one quarter of children under five are malnourished while 6% are severely underfed, a Floods Assessment Needs survey has found.

"I haven't seen malnutrition this bad since the worst of the famine in Ethiopia, Darfur and Chad. It's shockingly bad," said Karen Allen, deputy head of Unicef in Pakistan.

The survey reflects the continuing impact of the massive August floods, which affected 20 million people across an area the size of England, sweeping away 2.2m hectares of farmland.

The figures were alarming, Neva Khan, of Oxfam, said.

"Emergency aid right after the floods saved many lives, but, as these figures show, millions are at serious risk," she said.

Kristen Elsby, a Unicef official, called it a "humanitarian crisis of epic proportions". …

Much western aid has been pumped into a scheme to give flood victims direct financial aid, starting with a payment of £150. Some aid workers say it is prone to corruption.

The UK donated £114m which funded shelter for 1.3 million people and clean water for 2.5 million.

But more money is urgently needed. A UN appeal for $2bn to help people survive until this summer has only 56% of the funding.

Before the floods the western aid effort in Pakistan focused on the north-west, where an earthquake struck in 2005 and military operations against the Taliban have displaced millions.

After the floods, aid workers admit to being caught offguard by the problem in Sindh. "It was a real wake-up call," said one.

Some villages in northern Sindh remain under water, and where the water has cleared, irrigation systems lie destroyed, raising concerns for the next harvest this summer. …

Pakistan flood crisis as bad as African famines, UN says

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