Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Growing concern for the safety of Myanmar’s storm-affected children

NEW YORK, 19 May 2008 – United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will visit the cyclone-damaged region of Myanmar this week. The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes began a three day visit there yesterday.

Their trips come at a time of growing concern about the fragile situation of children in the region. The United Nations estimates that 2.5 million people have been severely affected by the storm and forty per cent of those are children.

Assistance is reaching victims. Food distribution, in particular, has improved over the past few days. However, much more help is needed.

To prevent further tragedy, UNICEF and its partners need to scale up the distribution of all resources, including funding and personnel to quickly meet the immediate needs of children and their families.

Seeking refuge

Ma Su Su (not her real name) is one of the 500 thousand people living in temporary accommodation after the storm. She and her three-year-old daughter can’t think much about the future.

Since Cyclone Nargis swept across the Irrawaddy Delta in Myanmar almost two weeks ago, Ma and 3,000 other survivors of the storm have sought refuge at Leikkukone Pagoda in Pyapon township.

She has terrible memories of the storm that claimed the lives of her husband and her younger daughter on the little girl’s first birthday.

‘We all fell into the water’

‘Our house quickly fell apart and washed away,’ Ma recalled. ‘We tried to run to higher ground. But we were hit by pieces of broken houses and trees. I was holding both daughters. We all fell into the water.

‘My daughter tumbled from my arms and the water took her away from us,’ she continued. ‘My husband tried to swim after her. I never saw him again.’

The pagoda was one of the few places of refuge on the night of the storm and has since been providing shelter ever since.

Emergency supplies

‘Although there is not enough for all people, we shared what we have,’ the Venerable A. Shin Nandamarlar said, referring to the situation in the pagoda. ‘At first, there were about 3,500 people. Later, some went back to their villages in search of their separated families, so now there are only 3,000 at my monastery. Some only come back for night shelter.’

Although township authorities have been distributing some food, survivors say it remains insufficient to meet their need. Working with the Myanmar Red Cross, UNICEF has been rushing some emergency supplies to the cyclone-affected communities – including water-purification tablets, oral rehydration salts to treat diarrhoeal dehydration, first-aid kits, essential drugs, tarpaulins for shelter and other basic living items.

And more supplies are on their way, as UNICEF focuses its effort on the hardest-hit townships where the needs are the greatest.

Reluctant to leave

In the first week of the cyclone disaster, there were 45 temporary settlements where more than 17,000 people sought shelter in Pyapon township. Authorities have asked those at the monastery to move to a government shelter in another township.

But having made a few friendships among other female survivors, Ma is reluctant to leave.

‘The survivors here are struggling to find food and water to drink,’ she said. ‘We are suffering. We have lost the people we loved and all our possessions. All I have now is my daughter. People say you survived the disaster, but at present, surviving the disaster has become a disaster.’ (Relief Web)

No comments: