Monday, 21 February 2011

Every day counts

PAKISTAN - “Every day counts.” Conny Lenneberg, policy director for World Vision Australia summed up the crisis facing children under one year old after three weeks of diarrhea, dehydration and going without enough food. “These little ones are so fragile now; if we don’t get aid to them soon many will die.”

We are in a camp for displaced persons north of Mazaffragar in Punjab province. Shadia and Anim have been telling us what happened the night they abandoned their homes in Suzama village to the rising flood water.

These little ones are so fragile now; if we don’t get aid to them soon many will die
“In the night there was a warning from the mosque and our father went to look at the river. We were all awake because everyone was so tense. Our father said we had to leave right away. Everyone was in a panic to get their own things. We took some dry food, lentils, chilies and tea and walked in the rain, in the clothes we were wearing through the night. We walked 15 kilometres and then got a car to the camp where people from our village were gathering. Our father walked all the way with the men from the village to bring our cow and our only sheep. Some of the animals from the village were drowned and some people [as well].”

Anim told us that after five days in the camp a local organisation found them and brought some clean water, food and arranged a doctor to visit them. They said life in the camp is very difficult without enough food, clean water and privacy and no chance to wash or store food and clothes in a clean place. Since arriving at the camp they have had health problems, diarrhea, fever and skin infections.

Shadia’s mother Hassina told us that while her four-month-old baby Abiha has been well so far, other babies have not been so fortunate. We talked to Sarada while her one-year-old baby daughter Anza cried incessantly. Anza has had diarrhea for ten days now. Her body is covered in boils and she is very small for her age. The health worker who visited the camp gave Sadara medicine for Anza but it has not made any difference.

Since arriving at the camp they have had health problems, diarrhea, fever and skin infections
Other parents brought their emaciated babies to us and told their stories. Salina’s father said his five-month-old son has been in the army hospital with fever and still has the skin infection that has plagued him since birth. His mother breast feeds him but also gives him baby milk powder (formula). We wonder how she can make that hygienically in the camp conditions. His grip on Conny’s finger is strong for such a thin baby, as if he is clutching at his last straw.

Baby Anima is also five months. Her mother Naseem says she is still breastfeeding but also feeds Anima rice when it’s available. She has taken Anima to the doctor for her diarrhea and fever but she says the real problem is contaminated water and lack of food.

All these families from Suzama will face the problems of having no work and needing to completely rebuild their homes when they can finally return.

It’s not their most pressing worry now though. Their youngest children are running on empty, fighting diarrhea and dehydration without clean water or enough food. Our response cannot wait. As Conny says: “Every day counts.”


First published on September 1, 2010, 14:20. Last updated on September 8, 2010, 14:51.

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