ISLAMABAD — The United Nations children’s agency warned Tuesday that after last summer’s devastating floods, 10 million people in Pakistan, including children, still live in flood-affected areas without access to safe drinking water.
Unicef’s statement underscored the dire situation in impoverished Pakistan, a country with a population of 220 million that months later is still struggling with the consequences of flooding as well as a spiraling economic crisis. The floods, which experts attribute in part to climate change, killed 1,739 people, including 647 children and 353 women.
So far, less than half of UNICEF’s appeal for funds for Pakistan, 45% of the $173.5 million, has been met. According to the agency, before the floods occurred last June, water from only 36% of Pakistan’s water system was considered safe for human consumption.
The floods damaged most of the water pipe systems in the affected areas, forcing more than 5.4 million people, including 2.5 million children, to rely solely on contaminated water from ponds and wells, it said. Unicef.
“Drinking water is not a privilege, it is a basic human right,” said Abdullah Fadil, UNICEF representative in Pakistan. “Yet every day, millions of girls and boys in Pakistan fight a losing battle against preventable waterborne diseases and consequent malnutrition.”
“We need the continued support of our donors to provide clean water, build toilets and provide vital sanitation services to these children and families who need it most,” Fadil added.
Amid the crisis, Pakistan faces uncertainty over a bailout from the International Monetary Fund. Analysts say the revival of the $6 billion IMF bailout, which was signed in 2019, would help Pakistan. If the global lender were to release a key share of the package, it would encourage other international financial institutions to help the country, they say.
At a UN-backed conference in Geneva in January, dozens of countries and international institutions pledged more than $9 billion to help Pakistan recover and rebuild after the floods. But most of the pledges were in the form of project loans, and the projects are still in the planning stages.
Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s government is also facing an increase in militant attacks and political instability as his predecessor, Imran Khan, is campaigning for early elections. Sharif has rejected the demands of Khan, who was ousted in a vote of no confidence in Parliament last April.
Sharif seeks political and economic stability to ensure rapid reconstruction in flood-affected areas, where the weakest and children are paying the price.
“In flood-affected areas, more than 1.5 million children are already severely malnourished, and the numbers will only increase in the absence of safe drinking water and adequate sanitation,” UNICEF said.
The floods caused more than $30 billion in damage, as large parts of the country remained under water for months, forcing millions of people to live in tents or makeshift houses near standing waters that caused the spread of diseases.
Sharif’s government is also trying to provide food and cash assistance to flood survivors as the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan begins this week, adding further financial burdens to the poorest of the population.
UNICEF’s warning came ahead of World Water Day, which will be observed on Wednesday as part of global efforts to highlight the importance of freshwater and advocate for the sustainable management of this vital resource.