UNICEF crisis response focuses on water and hygiene in aftermath of Cyclone Nargis
By Chris Niles
NEW YORK, 7 May 2008 – With 5,000 square km underwater and an estimated 1 million people homeless and in need of assistance, Myanmar continues to reel from the effects of Cyclone Nargis, which struck last weekend. In its response to the crisis, UNICEF is focusing on providing safe water and hygiene supplies to children and families at risk of life-threatening water-bourne diseases.
UNICEF Myanmar field staff are delivering pre-stocked emergency supplies to Myanmar’s largely flooded Irrawaddy Delta. The aid delivered so far includes thousands of sachets of oral rehydration salts to prevent diarrhoeal dehydration, as well as water purification tablets, family hygiene kits, essential medicines, first aid kits and shelter materials.
Although international humanitarian agencies have offered additional aid from outside the country, dozens of relief workers are still awaiting visas from Myanmar’s military government.
According to the latest reports, some 22,500 people have died and about 41,000 are missing in affected areas. Most of the deaths reportedly came from the tidal wave that followed in the wake of the cyclone.
Next days are critical
UNICEF staff members assessing the situation on the ground report widespread devastation and a dire need for water, food and shelter. They note that the next few days will be critical for Myanmar’s vulnerable populations – and that without more assistance, thousands more could die, particularly impoverished and undernourished children.
Assessment teams are working to identify needs and get essential aid to children and families in cyclone-affected areas. With estimates of the death toll likely to rise further, UNICEF will work closely with other UN agencies, playing a lead role in the effort to provide basic needs, including water and sanitation, as well as ensuring that children are protected and their education is interrupted as little as possible.
“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 Programs Kari Egge.
In the former capital, Yangon, the military government is attempting to restore electricity and water supplies. It has declared a state of emergency but so far has issued no visas to allow international UN staff to deliver aid supplies from outside the country.
'A lot of damage to infrastructure'
Cyclone Nargis, with winds of up to 120 miles per hour, struck on 3 May with little warning, razing towns and damaging tens of thousands of homes.
“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.
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.
“UNICEF has pre-stocked supplies in parts of the country and these can be easily mobilised,” Ms. Egge said. “Of course, it won’t be enough. The latest figures are so high that we will … bring in additional supplies.
Tim Ledwith contributed to this story.
UNICEF has been present in Myanmar since 1950, with nine zonal offices and a head office in Yangon.
Myanmar Cyclone Crisis 2008