Pakistan: Tackling a nutrition crisis in southern Sindh

9 May, 2014
Sindh, Pakistan: Child receives nutrition treatment at a centre in Tharparkar. Credit: WFP/Amjad Jamal
Sindh, Pakistan: Child receives nutrition treatment at a centre in Tharparkar. Credit: WFP/Amjad Jamal

A severe drought and limited access to health services has led to a nutrition crisis in the Tharparkar region of south-east Pakistan. This year alone, more than 200 people including many children have died due to malnutrition-related causes in the region. An estimated 44 per cent of children under five are suffering from chronic malnutrition.

To combat the problem, international organizations including the World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Food Programme and UNICEF, FAO and WFP have appealed for US$12 million to implement a year-long food security project to address the long-standing nutrition needs of over 1.3 million people in the region who do not have enough to eat.

These resources will help the organizations establish more community-based malnutrition treatment sites, enhance emergency health services, build and rehabilitate water harvesting structures, and improve livelihood support in affected areas.

“I hope our donors will be as generous as they have been in the past and continue to support the Pakistani people, whose courage and resilience is outstanding even during times of tragedy and crises,” said the UN Deputy Humanitarian Chief, Kyung-wha Kang, who concluded her first mission to Pakistan this week calling on the international community to continue supporting life-saving humanitarian efforts. 

Crop failures and loss of livestock compound food insecurity

The pain is still raw for 45-year-old Mewaha, a shepherd from Tharparkar, who recently lost his three-year-old son to malnutrition.

“He was sick for ten days. I could not afford the PKR1,500 (US$15) to hire a vehicle to take him to hospital, much less pay for any of the medical expenses. The home remedies we tried just did not work,” Mewaha said with tears in his eyes.

Crop failures and livestock loss due to disease is having a major impact on poor communities in rural areas of Tharparkar. A recent outbreak of sheep pox devastated herds across the region and exacerbated problems for families who rely on the sheep for work and food.

“I had a small herd of 20 sheep. We lived a comfortable life until the sheep started to die,” Mewaha said. He lost 14 sheep to the sheep pox endemic, which left the remaining six either too sick or weak to sell.

Urgent need for more resources to provide life-saving aid

Five-month-old Pani was admitted to a nutrition stabilization centre set-up by WHO in a hospital in Tharparkar’s Mithi district. She was severely malnourished, and was suffering from pneumonia and acute gastroenteritis.

“Thanks to the doctors and medical staff, my daughter will soon regain her normal health. She will also receive the food she needs to help her grow healthy,” said Pani’s mother.

Pani was one of the luckier ones. Aid organizations have only been able to help a small percentage of children suffering from malnutrition in drought-affected areas such as Tharparkar, largely due to lack of resources.  So far, the organizations have not received any of the $12 million needed to scale-up nutrition efforts, and have started to divert funds from other aid programmes to meet the needs in Tharparkar.

Government authorities and the international humanitarian community are distributing food items such as rice and wheat, as well as vaccinating livestock. Health partners including WHO and UNICEF have provided medical supplies and established specialized nutritional treatment centres at government-run health facilities. But more needs to be done, says Deputy Humanitarian Chief Kang.

“The solutions are there but we won't be able to implement them unless all partners – the Government of Pakistan, the UN, civil society, and philanthropists alike – come together to urgently tackle these challenges,” said Ms. Kang.

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