Lost, sick or orphaned, children are the most vulnerable victims of Pakistan’s worst natural disaster. In the rain, in the mud, with hunger and disease all around, the survival of many youngsters hangs in the balance.
The floods have already killed at least 1,600 people and affected 20 million more. Illness could make things even worse. At least one case of cholera has been reported and there are warnings about the risk of typhoid fever and hepatitis A and E.
Help is arriving slowly with witness reports that numerous victims have still received nothing. Among them are orphans. At 14 or 15, many now find themselves at the head of a family of younger siblings that they must take care of and feed without help from anyone.
Hungry, thirsty and left to their own devices, children are vulnerable because they eat and drink whatever they find. UNICEF is working hard on the ground, distributing high-calorie busicuits to fight against malnutrition but the task is immense.
So far, gastroenteritis, skin diseases and dehydration have hit hard. But the UN is now warning that up to 3.5 million children are at especially high risk from deadly water-borne disease.
In the Dera Ismail Khan Hospital in Peshawar, the doctors are overwhelmed and the priority is being given to the young.
“Most of the children coming to us have diarrhoea and vomiting,” said Dr Fazal Rehman. “We have treated 100 to 200 patients. Most of them have been discharged but we are giving treatment to 30 to 50 patients on a daily basis.”
In the camps, many of the youngest refugees wander, in tears, among the tents. With their parents dead or missing, life will never be the same again for these children. Long-term psychological trauma is yet another danger they face.