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Subbi (28) holds her daughter Wazeeran (three years old). Photo: Khaula Jamil / Concern Worldwide / PakistanSubbi (28) holds her daughter Wazeeran (three years old). Photo: Khaula Jamil / Concern Worldwide / PakistanSubbi (28) holds her daughter Wazeeran (three years old). Photo: Khaula Jamil / Concern Worldwide / Pakistan

Living with Drought in Pakistan

Living with Drought in Pakistan
Story9 March 2022Mark Mukasa

For the past eight years, severe and prolonged drought conditions in the Sindh province in Pakistan have resulted in widespread malnutrition.

Climate change is severely affecting Sindh, one of the four provinces in Pakistan and home to 47 million people. The changing climate crisis has resulted in failed harvests and shortages of food in the poorest of places and as a consequence, around 29% of children suffer from acute malnutrition. Anaemia among children between the ages of six months and five years old is also at an ‘alarming level’ due to the drought. Sadly, nearly 48% of children under the age of five are stunted (suffering from impaired growth), while 35% of them are severely stunted.

Pakistan is considered the fifth most climate vulnerable nation in the world. Between 1998 and 2018, Pakistan lost nearly 10,000 lives to climate-related disasters. Poor and extreme weather has cost the country $4 billion in damages and has displaced 30 million people over the past twenty years.

Subbi (28) at home with her children in her village near Union Council Dhoronaro, District Umerkot. Photo: Khaula Jamil/Concern Worldwide
Subbi and her children, including baby Wazeeran, who is recovering from malnutrition. Photo: Khaula Jamil/Concern Worldwide

Living with Drought in Pakistan

Subbi, 35, lives in the Zubair Setho village in the Umerkot District of Sindh in Pakistan with her husband and five children.

During the harvest season, Subbi and her husband wake up at dawn to ready themselves for the day ahead. Both parents work all day as labourers in the fields, with Subbi only returning briefly in the afternoons to have a cup of tea.

Back at Subbi’s home, her children are left alone. One of Subbi's children, Mukeshan, who although herself only five years old, is charged with looking after her younger siblings while her parents are working. Despite her tender age, she takes her responsibility seriously and dotes over her siblings.

My husband and I have to work in the fields all day and the older children need to be home to watch the younger ones.”

- Subbi

Over three million people in the region are feeling the brunt of climate change and are dangerously short of food. For each failed harvest, there is a steep loss in income for families like Subbi’s, which guts their ability to provide nutritious food to those dependent on them.

All we have to eat are milk and chillies.”

- Subbi

Often, Subbi and her family sleep hungry when they run out of food. Recently, while Subbi visited a health centre three kilometres away to treat a fever, a nutrition assistant performed a MUAC measurement to determine malnutrition after becoming concerned about the underweight appearance of her three year old baby, Wazeeran. The results revealed Wazeeran was suffering from severe malnourishment and weighed only 3.7 kg (8lbs) -- the weight of a newborn baby.

Subbi (28) works with her husband as labourers in a field during harvest season, while her children stay at home.
Subbi (28) works with her husband as field labourers during harvest season, while her children stay at home. Photo: Khaula Jamil/Concern Worldwide

Wazeeran had a twin who died a few months after their birth. Ever since then I have been worried that she will also not survive.”

- Subbi

What Concern are doing

Concern’s healthcare team provided emergency support to Wazeeran, giving a course of emergency therapeutic food that has helped the three year old begin to gain weight.

Our emergency therapeutic food consists of ready-to-use high energy peanut paste that contains around 500 calories in each sachet. After six weeks of treatment, it can save a child from acute malnutrition.

Concern is supporting people facing food insecurity and malnutrition in Pakistan. Since 2021, Concern’s Sindh Drought Resilience Program reached over 65,000 people, implementing strategies to cope with the ongoing drought.

  • 13,873 children were treated for severe acute malnutrition with therapeutic food
  • We have trained and supported 1,887 community health workers in Sindh.
  • Plus, we led awareness sessions where 285,453 people were taught how to spot signs of malnutrition and to stay healthy.

It has been one week since I have been feeding her this and I can see her get more active every day. She would not eat anything before but her appetite has improved!”

- Subbi

Today, Wazeeran is showing signs of recovery. She continues to gain weight and is being assessed at weekly check-ups to ensure she stays on a healthy track.

Subbi and her husband have a long road ahead of them, but with the right continued support and treatment, hopefully they will be able to worry less about a lack of food and focus on raising their wonderful children.

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