|© UNICEF Mexico/2007/Alleyne|
|Flood-affected families wait in line at one of the supply distribution centres set up during the flooding in Villahermosa, Tabasco.|
By Richard Alleyne
VILLAHERMOSA, Mexico, 9 November 2007 – The roads leading into Villahermosa, Tabasco’s capital city, are muddy and strewn with ruptured sandbags where floodwaters have finally receded. Also lining the streets on the city’s outskirts are clusters of families who refuse to leave their badly damaged homes and have rigged makeshift shelters from cardboard and tarpaulin.
In the week since torrential rains produced the worst flooding here in more than 50 years, parts of the state of Tabasco remain under several feet of water and Army-led recovery efforts are still underway. More than 1 million people, a third of them children, have been affected by the floods.
The Ministry of Education reports that 400,000 students across the state have been affected and 2,500 schools damaged by the floods. Neighbouring Chiapas has also suffered flooding, and UNICEF has sent two teams of experts to both areas to identify immediate needs.
|© UNICEF Mexico/2007/Alleyne|
|A mother, child and UNICEF staff member at an emergency centre for Tabasco flood victims.|
Shelters provide assistance
El Toreo ‘albergue’ in Villahermosa is one of 276 government-run shelters providing flood victims with emergency assistance. Tractor-trailers line the street outside, and young men unload palettes of water, infant formula and dry food.
A queue of about 150 people snakes through the parking lot of the building. The process is organized but those waiting on line are grim-faced and look worn out.
UNICEF is establishing a programme to help children in the shelters, making sure they have emotional support and a safe environment. Planned activities include workshops that will train teachers and shelter personnel in psychosocial counselling techniques.
In addition, UNICEF will deliver recreation kits and approximately 4,200 school kits providing teachers and students with basic classroom supplies, backpacks and instructional materials.
‘We’ve never seen anything like this’
Ana and her husband Gonzalo have travelled an hour from the village of Rancheria Buenavista to El Toreo with their two-year-old daughter. Ana is seven months pregnant.
“We have never asked for help before,” says Gonzalo. “But we’ve never seen anything like this before. We need the help.”
Last week when the rains started, Ana and Gonzalo say, they expected some flooding to occur but couldn’t imagine the scale of what was to come. “Before we knew it the water was soaking through our home. We left to go to a friend’s house, and when we returned the waters were up to the windows,” Ana recalls.
Across the state, meanwhile, approximately 20,000 people have refused to leave their homes. Gonzalo says he’s afraid that his tiny house may be looted if they stay away too long. In the end, the couple decided to come to the shelter because they couldn’t risk running out of food with a young daughter to care for and another child on the way.
9 November 2007: UNICEF Representative in Mexico Susanna Sottoli discusses efforts to help children affected by flooding in Tabasco and Chiapas.