UNICEF sends teams to assess immediate needs in aftermath of Cyclone Nargis
By Chris Niles
NEW YORK, USA, 5 May 2008 – UNICEF has sent five missions to assess the immediate needs of children and families in Myanmar in the wake of the devastating cyclone that struck the country on Saturday.
With estimates of the death toll rapidly rising, UNICEF will lead the relief effort in providing basic needs, including water and sanitation, as well as ensuring that children are protected and their education is interrupted as little as possible.
‘A very frightening situation’
“Children have lost families, friends, and their own homes have been destroyed, so it’s a very frightening situation for children,” said UNICEF Deputy Director of Emergency Programmes Kari Egge.
Myanmar television has reported nearly 4,000 people are dead, but it’s likely the toll will be much higher as that estimate covers only two of the five disaster regions.
Senior UN officials say Myanmar’s Foreign Minister has briefed them that the death toll could reach 10,000.
Cyclone hit Saturday
Cyclone Nargis, with winds of up to 120 miles per hour, hit the Irrawaddy delta with little warning, razing towns and damaging tens of thousands of homes. The military government has declared a state of emergency and requested international aid.
“We know that buildings have been damaged, roads have been destroyed, trees have fallen and a number of schools and health clinics have been destroyed. There’s quite a lot of damage to infrastructure,” Ms Egge said.
The capital, Yangon (formerly Rangoon), was battered for hours by fierce winds. Flooding is widespread and buildings badly damaged. Communications have been cut, roads are blocked and UN officials estimate that hundreds of thousands are without shelter and drinking water.
Determining immediate needs
UNICEF teams will make their initial assessment in Yangon, Pathein and Bago. Supplies such as water purification tablets, food and emergency health kits and shelter materials will be urgently needed.
“UNICEF has pre-stocked supplies in parts of the country and these can be easily mobilized,” Ms Egge said. “Of course, it won’t be enough. The latest figures are so high that we will … bring in additional supplies.