September 1, 2022
By Rehan Piracha
As the flood waters refuse to recede an thousands remain marooned and cut off from basic relief and aid, some groups have been left in a much more vulnerable situation than others.
For example women, especially those of reproductive age, and those who are pregnant, require special services, but these are not being provided to them.
In a flood relief camp set up along the National Highway near Malir Industrial Area of Karachi, there are around a thousand victims from the flood-hit districts of Naushehro Feroze, Matiari, Larkana and Sukkur. But the Sindh government has not bothered to provide the much-needed health services to the pregnant women in the camp.
“There are eight pregnant women in this camp,” says Farzana Baloch, who heads the Malir Rescue Welfare Association while speaking to Voicepk. “Unfortunately the government has not given any medical assistance to them. One of the women, who had had a miscarriage during the floods, needs to undergo an emergency operation, but it is my organisation that has arranged for her treatment and operation at a nearby hospital.”
Baloch says that they have talked to the district administration to provide health and medical facilities to the women and girls in the camp. “These pregnant women need hospitalisation and a medical checkup at just a one-day medical camp will do them no good.”
Pregnancy is just part of the problem that these women are facing. It is just the tip of the iceberg. Thousands of women are still stranded in flood-hit districts across interior Sindh.
“My own relatives from Sindh’s other districts say they cannot come to Karachi as floodwaters have now washed away road links to Karachi,” she says.
At the same time, Farzana Baloch says women and girls stranded in the flood hit districts risked vaginal and urinary tract infections because of a lack of menstrual hygiene as well as washroom facilities. Most of all there was an unavailability of menstrual pads.
“We are providing sanitary pads to women in the camp. At the same time the government authorities are paying absolutely no attention to the healthcare of flood victims,” she adds.
Besides physical healthcare, women and girls were also at a greater risk of mental trauma and psychological issues since the destruction of their homes.
“They require serious psychological support because of their homelessness and displacement,” she says. These victims were also disturbed due to lack of privacy and many were often limited to their tents.
Another great risk was the availability of safe drinking water in the camp.
“Only recently a child and an elderly man, who possibly had gastroenteritis, passed away recently in the camp,” she reveals.
UNFPA gives numbers to flood affected women
In a statement on August 30, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), estimated that almost 650,000 pregnant women in the flood-affected areas require maternal health services to ensure a safe pregnancy and childbirth.
Out of this number, up to 73,000 women were expected to deliver by next month (October) will be needing skilled birth attendants, newborn care, and support.
In addition, many women and girls are at an increased risk of gender-based violence (GBV) as almost one million houses have been damaged.
“Pregnancies and childbirth can’t wait for emergencies or natural disasters to be over,” said UNFPA Pakistan Representative Dr Bakhtior Kadirov, referring to the situation. “This is when a woman and baby are vulnerable and need the most care. UNFPA is on the ground, working with partners, to ensure that pregnant women and new mothers continue receiving life-saving services even under the most challenging conditions.”
UNFPA reports that the humanitarian situation was being compounded by severe impacts on infrastructure.
More than 1,000 health facilities are either partially or fully damaged in Sindh province, whereas 198 health facilities are damaged in affected districts in Balochistan. The damage to roads and bridges has also compromised girls’ and women’s access to health facilities.
UNFPA said it was scaling up its emergency response to provide life-saving reproductive health services and commodities, including dignity kits, for women and girls. So far 8,311 dignity kits, 7,411 newborn baby kits, and 6,412 clean delivery kits have been procured for the immediate delivery to Sindh, Balochistan, KP, and Punjab.
According to a consolidated report with statistics by different departments of the UN, and which the NDMA is using for flood relief funds, around half the 6.4 million people affected by the floods are women. This includes over 1.6 million women of reproductive age, 320,000 adolescent girls between 10 to 14 years and 640,000 between the ages of 14 and 19.
The report says that around 127,642 women are currently pregnant and 14,182 will give birth in one month’s time. Approximately 2,127 of these women may end up in unsafe abortion or miscarriage and the same number of currently pregnant women will experience pregnancy-related complications. It says that around 32,000 women may seek services for gender-based violence (GBV).
Hussain Bakhsh of Qabil Bandhro Village, in Tehsil Jam Nawaz Ali, Sanghar, says they are in a hopeless situation almost cut off from any kind of aid.
“The flood waters have washed through our village demolishing homes and is still there, stagnant,” he says. “We do not even have a camp, we are sitting in the open air, with only 10 or 15 people sitting under some make shift cloth roof.
Hussain Bakhsh says they do not even have tents in their village and there are around five to six hundred, with more than half of them being women and children.
But they are hit worst by mosquitos, and fear for diseases being spread.
His wife Koonj says that the stagnant water and the dead animals are causing a stench in the area, and the biggest issue right now is the mosquitos.
“We do not have any privacy, no hygiene facilities; neither do we have any ration or water,” she complains.