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Flood-Stricken Pakistani Children at High Risk

Children from the flood-affected area of Kalam, in Pakistan's Swat Valley, rest in Bahrain, Pakistan as they relocate ahead of the upcoming winter, Nov 1, 2010 (file photo)

The United Nations Children's Fund warns that winter weather will worsen the threats against Pakistani children in flood-stricken areas who already suffer high rates of acute respiratory infections and malnutrition. UNICEF says it needs more than $80 million to continue its life-saving work.

Official figures report one-fifth of Pakistan's land area was ravaged by monsoon floods that affected more than 20 million people. About 10,000 schools and rural health centers were damaged by the floods, and important infrastructure was destroyed or badly damaged.

Speaking by telephone from Islamabad, UNICEF South Asia Regional Director Daniel Toole said the crisis is far from over. He notes new polio cases are spreading rapidly, with 126 this year compared to 89 in 2009.

Pakistan is one of the four polio-endemic countries in the world. Until the floods struck, Toole said Pakistan had made significant strides towards eradicating polio. These efforts now are set back.

He said low ongoing coverage in conflict areas in the north, overcrowding, and poor sanitation as a result of the floods all have heightened the threat for children. He said nutrition is a major issue.

"Pakistan was suffering from a chronic long-term under-nutrition problem for many, many years and the emergency has really highlighted that and brought it to acute levels of malnutrition," said Toole. "The combination finally of the malnutrition and winter are perfect conditions for acute respiratory infections, commonly known as pneumonia."

Toole says UNICEF is rushing medical supplies along with the World Health Organization and others to make sure enough supplies are available to treat people throughout a very difficult winter.

Despite the many obstacles, he said U.N. aid agencies have been working together for the past four months, and have made a lot of progress in providing life-saving programs for the flood-victims.

"We now have vaccinated more than 9 million children against measles and polio. We are giving water to about 2.8 million people every day, which is a near Herculean task, and about 1.5 million now have access … to sanitation."

In preparation for winter, UNICEF says it has started to distribute warm children's clothing and blankets. But it says millions of families still need assistance in the form of water, medicine and nutritional supplements to survive the coming months.