By Pi James
NEW YORK, USA, 30 August 2010 – Pakistan has experienced some of the worst monsoon-related floods in history, devastating large parts of the country, wiping out towns and villages, and displacing entire communities. Millions of children have been affected, losing their homes, loved ones, and schools, leaving them vulnerable to disease and abuse.
Podcast moderator Amy Costello spoke with Ms. Muqaddisa Mehreen, an Education Specialist with UNICEF in Islamabad, and award-winning journalist and filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy from Karachi, about the situation on the ground in Pakistan and the immediate and long-term impact on children and education.
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Ms. Obaid-Chinoy, who has been working with the influx of internally displaced people arriving in Karachi from flood-affected areas, said she finds the “spirit broken” in those she’s spoken with – many of whom have travelled by foot for three or four days to reach the city.
“Many have lost their entire lifetime of savings, and they don’t know if they’ll ever be able to go back or if they’ll ever be able to rebuild their lives,” said Ms. Obaid-Chinoy.
Ms. Muqaddisa Mehreen said there are also significant concerns for the safety of children fleeing the floodwaters.
“There are smaller children that are not going to school – the schools have been damaged – so here these children are very vulnerable in terms of violence, in terms of harassment,” she noted. “Many of them have also lost their loved ones, so we are talking about children who are, at times, heading households.”
Ms. Obaid-Chinoy agreed: “There is a lot of trauma with losing their home, seeing their loved ones perish in the floods. They have to fend for themselves, stand in line to get food. [They] have been forced to become adults far too quickly, and this is going to affect Pakistan in the long term.”
The children that Ms. Obaid-Chinoy has met “know that their lives will not be the same again,” she added.
Ms. Muqaddisa Mehreen said UNICEF was working on establishing safe temporary learning spaces for displaced children to address immediate concerns and needs.
“Looking at the scale and scope of this tragedy, it’s really big, but we are trying put in some temporary learning spaces where you can add some normalcy in the chaos that has already been created, and then address the issue of trauma and provide the psycho-social support,” explained Ms. Muqaddisa Mehreen.
More help needed
Ms. Muqaddisa Mehreen stressed the need for more assistance from the international community. “The scope of this calamity is huge,” she said. “We’re talking about more than a million children here who have lost schools completely, so I think a lot more funding is required and it has not reached the global audience out there in terms of how big it is and [how much] more help is needed.”
Ms. Obaid-Chinoy emphasized the importance of focusing on rebuilding Pakistan after the floods.
“The waters are going to recede, there’s no doubt about that. And when they recede, that’s when the international community really needs to step in and think about Pakistan in the long term,” she said. “Here is an opportunity for the world, especially the Western countries, to prove to the Pakistani people … that the rest of the world cares.”