Focusing on cyclone's youngest victims
We're focusing on cyclone's youngest victims says Save the Children
Save the Children is working against the clock to reach surviving children and their families left destitute in the wake of Cyclone Nargis.
Official figures put the death toll in Myanmar at 23,000, with around one million homeless. However, unofficial UN estimates claim the numbers are far greater, with 216,000 dead, around 220,000 missing and two million homeless. Save the Children believes 40% of those dead and missing are believed to be children.
Save the Children's local staff of 500, who normally work out of 35 local offices across Myanmar, have been mobilised to help with the emergency response, and have already managed to provide aid to around 80,000 people, more than a quarter of them children.
"It is now a race against time and our priority has to be those who are left," says Debbie Jack, Programmes Manager of Save the Children New Zealand.
"In emergencies such as this, children are hit hardest, and they are always one of our first priorities. There will be large numbers of children separated, orphaned and unaccompanied, at greater risk of exploitation, abuse and psychological distress. Expert education and protection staff are being assigned to focus on these issues.
"They will be setting up child-friendly spaces in all areas where cyclone victims have gathered, to encourage children traumatised by the disaster and its aftermath to play and join in activities that will help relieve psychosocial stress. We'll also be providing child protection training to others responding to the emergency.
"As well, Save the Children will play a lead role in tracing and reuniting children separated from their families as a result of the disaster. We will be working to identify them, assess and take action on their needs."
Meanwhile, conditions in Myanmar continue to deteriorate rapidly. Sanitation is likely to worsen as people are forced to shelter in large numbers, and water supplies remain limited. There are reports of population movements outwards to less affected areas as people go in search of basic necessities
"Obviously these factors will impact greatly on children and we need to scale up our response to avoid this turning into a major health emergency."
Save the Children has been operating in Myanmar for 13 years. It has been able to respond immediately to this disaster using funds already set aside that allowed it to begin distributing aid without delay. But more funds are urgently needed to scale up our emergency response.
Local staff have been working in the worst-hit areas, providing food, water purification tablets, plastic sheeting for shelter and protection, kitchen equipment and rehydration salts to those families whose homes have been destroyed. We are redeploying more staff from non-affected areas in Myanmar to enable us to increase the response in both Yangon and the delta.
"This has given us a good platform on which to launch our response. However, as the scale of the disaster becomes clearer, and the numbers affected continue to rise, we need to look at bringing in extra support and aid from outside Myanmar.
"We are currently anticipating the arrival of three shipments of aid into Yangon including tents, plastic sheeting and mosquito nets. The next phase will be the biggest logistical challenge as we strive to scale up our response."
Last week Save the Children launched a global $12 million appeal for the victims of Cyclone Nargis. If you would like to donate you can do so in several ways:
• Call Save the Children New Zealand's donation line: 0800 167 168 • Donate via our website: www.savethechildren.org.nz • Visit any one of Save the Children's shops across the country (visit the website to find the one closest to you) • Send a cheque, made out to Save the Children, to Freepost PO Box 6584, Marion Square, Wellington. Mark your envelope Myanmar and don't forget to add your name and address so we can supply a receipt.