UNICEF highlights ‘silent threats’ to children in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Pablo
13th December 2012, Manila, Philippines. UNICEF and leading children’s non-governmental organisations expressed concerns on the threats to children in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Pablo (international name Bopha). In a statement, co-authored by UNICEF, Plan International and Save the Children, the three agencies called attention to the looming silent threats of malnutrition and abuse and exploitation of vulnerable children.
As the missing or dead topped 1600, the three agencies particularly focused on two pressing issues for children that have received less attention, namely the protection of vulnerable children and malnutrition.
The joint statement highlights child trafficking as a potential risk in the most affected areas.
Mindanao is a known source of trafficking, especially for labour. In an environment of chaos and confusion, children are vulnerable to trafficking, and the agencies urge increased awareness of these threats among local government and other community leaders. Heightened awareness is the first step towards prevention.
The agencies also stressed the importance of creating ‘child-friendly spaces’ in communities, where children can be registered, monitored and where they can play, learn and socialise to regain a sense of normalcy and childhood – essential for their psychological recovery from the disaster.
Tomoo Hozumi, UNICEF Philippines Representative, said:
‘The Government of the Philippines and the concerned LGUs have been doing commendable work in response to the aftermath of Typhoon Pablo despite so many challenges. In this damaged environment, it is particularly important to pay attention to the vulnerability of children. We have seen unscrupulous adults take advantage of these situations in other parts of the world. Through clear information and awareness in communities, we can ensure that we don’t let these children become double victims of their circumstances.’
The statement also highlights the dangers posed by the underlying malnutrition rates, which were above national averages in this area even before the typhoon struck.
Baseline nutritional status in the affected areas prior to the current emergency shows that children in the affected areas are already vulnerable to malnutrition. These low baseline levels indicate that it won’t take much for children to become severely malnourished given the environment of poor water and sanitation, as well as food insecurity.
‘ We must not wait for malnutrition to reach dangerous levels, before we act. For young infants, breastfeeding provides all the nutrients needed, as well as offering excellent protection from disease, as the mothers’ immunity is shared with the baby. We urge all agencies working in these communities, in all sectors, to support mothers, and protect their rights to breastfeed their children.’
UNICEF is currently supporting government and non-government partners to conduct rapid nutrition surveys of children under-five years of age in the most affected areas, as well as counseling for breastfeeding mothers. UNICEF is also positioning supplies to treat cases of acute malnutrition as they occur.