UNICEF helps cyclone-hit families
by Minhaz Anwar
Dhaka, 4 June 2009 – A week after Cyclone Aila hit the fifteen coastal districts of Bangladesh, the magnitude of damages only starts to unfold. Among the 4.82 million affected people, children and women are particularly vulnerable. Hundreds of thousands of families are still without shelters, safe drinking water, food or medicines. Some have taken shelters on the embankments that are the only place above the water level, as sea water continues to flood villages during high tide because of the breaches in the dikes and embankments left by Aila.
The salty water coming in is spoiling water points. Severe shortage of drinking water has already led to an outbreak of diarrhoea mainly in Satkhira and Khulna districts, affecting over 4,000 people. As diarrhoea and water-borne diseases spread, children are likely to pay the highest toll due to lack of nutrition and immunity. There is also an increasing risk of children drowning given the water logging.
Based on request from Department of Public Health Engineering (DPHE), UNICEF has released US$ 118,800 (BDT 8.14 million) to ensure immediate provision of safe water and proper sanitation. According to the DPHE, until 31 May, 2,757 water points and 2,689 latrines have been repaired, 6,999 bottles of water, 972,700 Water Purifying Tablets and 8,747 jerry cans have been distributed. These supplies include UNICEF-supported emergency items pre-positioned in government stores.
UNICEF will also be distributing 19,500 plastic sheets and family kits including cooking utensils, clothes, soap and jerry can, to 12,750 vulnerable families in Satkihra district next week through the partner NGOs.
A rapid assessment team headed by UNICEF 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 effect. “Aila struck in many of the same areas where Sidr struck. Sidr survivors could resume their lives earlier as water receded quicker,” Hans said.
“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.”
Schools damaged, books lost
Around 500,000 children have been shut from schooling opportunities in six most affected districts -Khulna, Bagerhat, Satkhira, Barguna, Bhola and Patukhali. A total of 354 schools are reported fully damaged and 2,534 partially damaged. Books, materials and furniture have been washed away. Some schools are being used as shelters. Pre-primary education facilities have suffered even more than the schools as their structures are not as strong. In addition, safety and security is an issue as many children and women are living in the open with no privacy. Children are also suffering from psychological shocks and are in desperate need of recuperation in the context of the devastation, loss of family members and sudden displacement.
Safe spaces for children prioritised
UNICEF has agreed to support about 140 Child Friendly Spaces (CFS) set up by Save the Children Alliance, ActionAid and the Society Development Agency in Khulna, Satkhira, Barguna and Patuakhali districts. UNICEF will be providing 950 pre-positioned recreational kits through these child friendly spaces as soon as they are functioning. Government is mobilising textbooks while UNICEF is planning to support temporary learning centres and supply of teaching / learning materials.
As secondary damages are becoming clearer UNICEF Field offices are now busy finding how much more provisions of water, plastic sheets and medicine/saline are needed. UNICEF has already instructed transferring more items such as 91 metric tons of nutritional biscuits, 11,776 plastic sheets and 2040 family kits from non-affected regions to replenish the stock in the affected area.