Suhani Bunglani fans flies away from her two baby girls as one sleeps motionless while the other stares without blinking at the roof of their tent, her empty belly bulging beneath a green flowered shirt.
Their newborn sister already died on the ground inside this steamy shelter at just 4 days old, after the family’s escape from violent floods that drowned a huge swath of Pakistan. Now the girls, ages 1 and 2, are slowly starving, with shriveled arms and legs as fragile as twigs.
More than 100,000 children left homeless by Pakistan’s floods are in danger of dying because they simply do not have enough to eat, according to UNICEF. Children already weak from living on too little food in poor rural areas before the floods are fighting to stay alive, as diarrhea, respiratory diseases and malaria attack their emaciated bodies.
Doctors roaming the 100-degree (38-Celsius) camp that reeks of urine and animal manure have warned Bunglani three times to take her children to the hospital, or they will die.
The mother says she knows they need help, but she cannot leave the tent without her husband’s consent. She must stay until he returns, even if it means risking her daughters’ lives.
“I am waiting for my husband,” she says, still fanning flies from the sweating babies. “He is coming.”
Bunglani says her two baby girls have had little to eat since the Indus River jumped its banks and turned one-fifth of the country into a muddy lake. She was working in the field when the water began surging, leaving her just enough time to grab a baby under each arm and run to safety.
The military transported the extended family to the camp on the outskirts of Sukkur, where she said they typically receive one meal a day consisting of rice, vegetables or lentils. There is nothing for the babies, and the newborn simply was not strong enough to survive.
“They are getting bread. They don’t have milk. She can eat rice,” Bunglani says, pointing to Sughra, 2. “But the younger one cannot.”
In the past day, Sughra has stopped eating altogether. She will not take rice or any other food, she just turns her head and shoves her mother’s hand away.
The little one, Heleema, 1, cannot sit on her own without support, even though she should be getting ready to walk by now.
People from neighboring tents begin to gather, urging Bunglani to allow the doctors to take her children to the hospital. Finally, her brother-in-law arrives and gives the OK. Bunglani grabs both girls and begins walking to the truck, waiting on the road where their grandfather joins them. He will escort her, guaranteeing that her husband will approve of the decision.
“These kids are everything to me,” Bunglani says. “I am worried about them, and everybody can see what condition they are in.”