Pakistan Struggles To Help Flood Victims

Makeshift relief camps are almost everywhere in Pakistan's flood zone, but they are short of supplies. Children sleep on dried mud floors because there are no mats. Pakistan's government has been accused of moving too slowly in the crisis.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

In Pakistan, floods that began on the countrys northern border with China have nearly reached the Arabian Sea in the south. In the south, a massive displacement of people rivals the one that began one month ago in the north. Millions of acres are inundated and the ranks of those seeking shelter rises every day. An estimated one million flood victims also need access to health services, medical supplies and vaccinations against diseases.

NPR's Julie McCarthy is in Pakistans southern province of Sindh, and reports on the children and new mothers suffering from the flood.

JULIE MCCARTHY: There are new arrivals at the camps every day.

(Soundbite of baby crying)

MCCARTHY: One day old Ayesha wailed her way into the world in this tented relief settlement, hurriedly pitched up by the army on the outskirts of the city of Sukkor, the main town in the northern half of Sindh Province. The city itself was spared but has become host to thousands of people who were not.

The U.N. estimates that three and a half million victims of Pakistans floods are children. In the makeshift settlements that have sprung up around Sukkor, children are the principle patients filling up the makeshift clinics. Their ailments range from skin disease to malnutrition to diarrhea. Ayesha is among the lucky ones she was vaccinated for polio and T.B. shortly after being born.

(Soundbite of baby crying)

MCCARTHY: A local medical team bustles around the beautiful raven-haired infant, squealing in the blistering heat beneath a kaki green tent. She is the fourth child of a young illiterate mother who does not know her age. That is not uncommon. Nor is it uncommon for girls to marry by age 14 and have many children by the time they reach twenty-five. Dr. Sahibjan Badar guesses Ayeshas mother, Jenna, is in her mid-twenties. She sees many like Jenna Rashid - malnourished and overworked.

Dr. SAHIBJAN BADAR: In the whole of the day they are working as a farmer...

MCCARTHY: Yeah.

Dr. BADAR: ...under the sun, under the heat, and when they go back to their homes, it doesn't have good food. Because of that, they look like - they're 30 years of age, the woman looks like they're 50, and the 40 looks like they're 60.

MCCARTHY: And can you tell us how long youve been in this camp?

Dr. BADAR: (Foreign language spoken)

JENNA: (Foreign language spoken)

Dr. BADAR: Ten days.

JENNA: (Foreign language spoken)

Dr. BADAR: Shes saying that we doesn't have anything, we lost everything. Only we came here with our street clothes.

MCCARTHY: You came with the clothes on your back.

Dr. BADAR: Yeah.

MCCARTHY: Doctor, I wondered if you could explain how this flood really is helping expose...

Dr. BADAR: Yeah.

MCCARTHY: ...the poverty of rural Pakistan. The baby comes into the world totally challenged.

Dr. BADAR: Challenged. Of course, they're totally challenged. And we are counseling them that please, you had the kids before, now you can go for the family planning. Please, you dont produce more children. I talk to your husband please, be careful, because she lost her health why are you producing more children?

MCCARTHY: The UN estimates that throughout Pakistan there are some 960,000 pregnant and lactating women in the flood-affected zones in need of nutrition. Dr. Sahibjan Badar and her overstretched staff of some 40 paramedics, mid-wives and doctors from the Sukkur District are reaching a fraction of them.

South of Sukkur, just outside the city of Larkana, the churning Indus River is eating away the Embankment.

(Soundbite of tools clanking)

MCCARTHY: Around-the-clock effort is underway to reinforce the crumbling mud and stone barrier. Five hundred trucks are lined up loaded with tons of stones ready to fortify the embankment. The top administrator of the District of Larkana, Syed Hasan Naqvi, says there is much to protect in the historic city of the same name. It is the ancestral home of the slain former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, and the site of ruins of the ancient civilization that took root along the Indus River 5,000 ago.

Mr. SYED HASAN NAQVI: Larkana has a rich history, rich agriculture. It has famous ruins and monuments of Moenjo Daro, and the Indus passes through it throughout a length of 53 kilometers. That makes Larkana a very prominent place.

MCCARTHY: With water encircling Larkana from three sides, it is a race to shore up the endangered city, a race that is underway in villages across this flood-ravaged province.

Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Larkana

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