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UNICEF: Pakistan Flood Victims Need Emergency Help

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) is urgently appealing for $5 million to provide emergency assistance to tens of thousands of flood victims in Pakistan. UNICEF estimates more than 1.5 million people are affected by the floods in the southern provinces of Baluchistan and Sindh. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

The floods were provoked by four days of heavy rains following a devastating cyclone, which hit Baluchistan and Sindh on June 23. Official figures put the number of homeless people at more than 100,000. About 300 people are reported dead, with many more still missing.

The U.N. Children's Fund says three out of four people affected by the floods are children and women. It says at least 300,000 of the affected children are under the age of five. It says some of these children have lost their homes and they are exposed to extremely high temperatures.

UNICEF spokeswoman, Veronique Taveau, says the children have limited access to clean water. This, she says, puts them at particular risk of infectious diseases, epidemics and of becoming malnourished.

"That is why at the moment, UNICEF is pre-positioning, organizing all the distribution of the kits that we need for that not to happen," she said. "And, we are closely monitoring the situation together with WHO, together with WFP in order to work in one way and to organize ourselves so that all what the population needs will be there when it is needed."

Taveau says the U.N. agencies are presently conducting an assessment mission to evaluate the needs. Baluchistan and Sindh are among the poorest provinces in Pakistan. This makes children and women there particularly vulnerable to natural disasters.

UNICEF says one out of 10 infants dies before his or her first year of age. It reports 40 percent of children under the age of five are underweight and maternal mortality is twice the country's average.

Taveau says UNICEF is worried that children will suffer from lack of food, safe water and medicine. Another big problem, she says, is that of separated or unaccompanied children.

"We do not know exactly how many orphans we have and how many children are still looking for their parents, because the situation is still quite chaotic," she added. "And, it is quite difficult to reach those two regions. We can only go there by helicopter. The roads are closed because of the floods. So, the situation there is not very easy at the moment."

Taveau says children who have no one to protect them are at increased risk of trafficking, exploitation and abuse. She says girls and children of female-headed households also suffer from discrimination. They experience more difficulties in getting basic humanitarian services.

UNICEF says money from the appeal will be used to improve water, sanitation and hygiene. It says it will provide special nutritional feeding to try to prevent children from becoming malnourished. Two other priority areas include education and child protection.