UNICEF helping families affected by Cyclone Aila in Bangladesh
By Minhaz Uddin Anwar
DHAKA, Bangladesh, 4 June 2009 – In the days since Cyclone Aila hit the fifteen coastal districts of Bangladesh on 25 May, the magnitude of the damage has begun to unfold.
Families are still without shelters, safe drinking water, food or medicines. Some have taken shelter on embankments to stay above the water level during high tide.
The salty floodwaters are spoiling fresh water sources, and a severe shortage of drinking water has already led to an outbreak of diarrhoea – mainly in the Satkhira and Khulna districts – that has affected over 4,000 people. As diarrhoea and water-borne diseases spread, children are likely to be hit the hardest due to their lack of nutrition and immunity.
Coordinating with the Department of Public Health Engineering (DPHE), UNICEF has provided the funding for the immediate provision of safe water, supplies and proper sanitation facilities.
A rapid assessment team headed by UNICEF’s Water and Environmental Sanitation Chief Hans Spruijt spent three days in Satkhira and Khulna Districts. According to Hans Spruijt, the impact of the cyclone is severe and is likely to have long term effects.
“Aila struck in many of the same areas where Sidr struck. Sidr survivors could resume their lives earlier as water receded quicker,” noted Mr. Spruijt.
“Some of these communities are located in marooned situations, completely surrounded by salt water, only reachable by boat,” he added. “As much repair work is needed to fix the embankments, it is expected that many of the affected people will remain isolated and cut-off from basic services for periods ranging from another two weeks to several months and their situation will be more precarious by the day.”
Children have had their schooling opportunities affected by the cyclone. In the six hardest hit districts - Khulna, Bagerhat, Satkhira, Barguna, Bhola and Patukhali - a total of 354 schools are reported fully damaged and 2,534 are partially damaged.
Books, materials and furniture have been washed away. Some schools are being used as temporary shelters. Many pre-primary education facilities have also been destroyed. In response, the government is mobilising the distribution of textbooks, while UNICEF is supporting the creation of temporary learning centres and the supplying of teaching and learning materials.
Children are also suffering from the psychological effects of the disaster, having experienced the devastation, loss of family members and sudden displacement.
Safe spaces for children
UNICEF has agreed to support roughly 140 child-friendly spaces set up by non-governmental organizations Save the Children Alliance, ActionAid and local Social Development Agencies.
UNICEF will also be providing 950 pre-positioned recreational kits to child-friendly spaces as soon as they are functioning.
As the secondary damages become clearer, UNICEF field offices are also planning additional provisions of water, plastic sheets and medicine.