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Pakistani Flood Victims Face Malnutrition, Disease as Winter Nears

October 18, 2010 at 12:00 AM EST
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Special correspondent Jeffrey Kaye reports on Pakistani flood victims' continuing needs for food, medicine, agricultural help and other aid as winter nears.
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GWEN IFILL: Next: Pakistan after the floods, where many are still in need of food, medicine, and economic aid.

Special correspondent Jeffrey Kaye reports from a small town in the Northwest part of the country.

JEFFREY KAYE: The village of Zareenabad is slowly coming back to life.

When we visited here in late August, the town had been underwater for a month, the survivors camped in the graveyard, clinging to a narrow strip of high ground. Now the water has been pumped out. Villages are trying to reconstruct their livelihoods here in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, an area already troubled by insurgent attacks.

Roads that were underwater are now dusty. Classes have resumed, even though the school is housed in a tent. A water tanker makes twice-daily deliveries to the tents. And latrines provide sanitary facilities to people who recently had none.

Barber Akbar Shah and his family of 12 still live in a tent. He’s back in business cutting hair with the one pair of scissors and one comb he salvaged from the flood.

AKBAR SHAH, refugee (through translator): At the moment, we have nothing, and my business is in very poor condition. I’m making just enough to feed my children. I have no money to reconstruct my home, so I’m looking to God for help.

JEFFREY KAYE: Even though some reconstruction is under way, the economy is in tatters. Many villagers lost jobs after floods destroyed the local sugar mill. Eleven million Pakistanis are still in need of immediate humanitarian assistance, according to the U.N. Aid organizations are pleading for more financial support.

Medical experts worry that, as winter approaches, residents, particularly those who are still homeless, will be more vulnerable to illness and disease. Each day, a mobile team of health workers sets up in a different location. Today they have taken over a madrassa, a boys religious school.

As patients wait to be seen, a health worker teaches about basic hygiene, keeping clean to avoid skin and eye infections.

DR. AMIN ULLAH, Mobile Medical Team: People are not having that much good nutrition. They’re not having shelter. They are facing stagnant water. They are facing a lot of other things. That’s why the diseases are more — becoming more common.

JEFFREY KAYE: Dr. Amin Ullah sees patients old and young. He prescribes medication that is dispensed on the spot. Even though the flood has receded, waterborne diseases continue, and other infections spread as the weather gets colder.

DR. AMIN ULLAH: Skin infections are very much dominant around, and malaria, ARI, acute respiratory infection — infections, especially in children, this is becoming very much prominent with the passage of time. And it is giving them more pain.

JEFFREY KAYE: Even before the disaster, Pakistan struggled to meet the health needs of a poor population. Malnutrition was already a serious problem. Now UNICEF is warning that more than 125,000 children could suffer from severe malnutrition this year.

At a UNICEF-supported pediatric wing at the local hospital in Nowshera, every morning, patients gather from the flood zone for treatment. Dr. Sajjid Ahmad says many of them are repeat patients.

DR. SAJJID AHMAD, District Hospital, Nowshera: We have seen cases, they are coming again and again. We had a case comes to us. We treated them. When they are gone, go home, they drink the same polluted water. And they come to us again and again with the same conditions.

JEFFREY KAYE: Beyond the immediate medical issues are the long-term consequences of the massive flooding, with some six million acres of land spoiled by floodwaters, the well-being of millions of Pakistanis depends on the ability to resurrect the badly damaged agricultural sector.

For farmers, it’s a race against time. They have got to prepare their fields for winter planting. But they also need seeds. If they don’t get them, they could lose another harvest, and they and their families will be dependent on food aid for at least another year.

Islam Udin farms 10 acres just outside of Zareenabad. The floods destroyed his crop and killed his two milk cows. Now a thick layer of hard, dry mud covers his fields.

ISLAM UDIN, farmer (through translator): My family was fully dependent on the corn crop for our income. So, now we have nothing.

JEFFREY KAYE: Udin has a family of 20 to support. His house is ruined and he needs money to rent a tractor, fix his irrigation pump, and buy wheat seed.

ISLAM UDIN (through translator): Wheat seed is expensive. At the moment, I have no money. I will sell this grass for animal feed to get the money to buy the seed.

JEFFREY KAYE: Humanitarian groups plan to distribute free seed and fertilizer to the poorest subsistence farmers. These farmers are registering for the assistance. To qualify, they need to have fewer than 2.5 acres. But even if they get the seed, many will need help watering their crops.

TRULS BREKKE, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization: Irrigation is one of the main challenges we’re facing right now, because irrigation is crucial to the harvest. And a lot of irrigation systems have been destroyed. They’re silted up and needs to be cleared. And this is a major challenge that we’re facing.

JEFFREY KAYE: Truls Brekke with the U.N.’s Food and Agricultural Organization, which oversees the seed distribution. He says the program could feed up to six million people.

TRULS BREKKE: Right now, people need aid to survive, but if we can get them to plant their own food, they will not be dependent for so long. The wheat that we’re looking at now will be harvested in about April. And from then, they will not be as dependent on aid.

But that, of course, only goes for the places where we can plant. Right now, as we’re speaking, in Sindh, in the southern province, the water still stands this high in many places. It’s not going to be possible to plant there yet. But, as the water recedes, we’re hoping that we can distribute to more areas, and we will target those.

JEFFREY KAYE: In areas like Zareenabad now taking halting steps towards recovery, the unprecedented floods have only compounded a host of problems.

As we left town, we saw the aftermath of a recent attack, the wreckage of Pakistani fuel tankers headed to Afghanistan to supply U.S. troops — potent reminders of the other troubles that remain.

GWEN IFILL: We will have an interview with Pakistan’s foreign minister tomorrow night.