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Flooding in Malaysia threatens children’s well-being

© Mercy Malaysia/2007
Mercy Malaysia President Dr. Jemilah Mahmood working with children affected by the floods in Johor State, Malaysia.

By Blue Chevigny

NEW YORK, USA, 19 January 2007 – Flooding in Malaysia from unusually high levels of rainfall has resulted in the displacement of thousands of people, many of them children. 

The 375 relief centres operated by the government are currently hosting a total of 115,000 evacuees from the states of Johor, Pahang and Sabah. Malaysia is experiencing its heaviest rainfall since 1971, when the entire country flooded.

The floods in Johor are the worst in 100 years, reports Dr. Jemilah Mahmood, President of Mercy Malaysia, a UNICEF partner and non-governmental organization that is coordinating relief efforts.

Adjusting to new landscapes

In the past few days the waters have receded a bit, allowing many families to return to their homes and decreasing the number of displaced people, who now number about 70,000, according to Dr. Mahmood.

However, in the hardest-hit areas, people are still cut off from the outside world.

“Many of the smaller villages have become islands surrounded entirely by water,” says Dr. Mahmood.  “People are isolated, and naturally they are depressed. Some of these newly created islands take our doctors one and a half hours to reach by boat.”

Even the areas that have not been transformed into islands by the water are often isolated and hard to reach. “Bridges and roads have been washed away. These will take a long time to rebuild, and it’s a big job,” explains Dr. Mahmood.

© Mercy Malaysia/2007
Dr. Jemilah Mahmood engages with women affected by the floods in Malaysia.

Effects on children

Children are among those most directly affected by the flooding, with schools closed and students missing their studies. Many school buildings that are useable have been turned into evacuation centres.

“They are experiencing a disruption of their education,” says Dr. Mahmood, referring to children in flooded areas. “They were supposed to start school in early January, but school still has not started.”

In addition, the crisis is having a psychological impact on children and families across Malaysia. “A lot of people are in a state of shock,” observes Dr. Mahmood. “And now I worry that they are moving into a state of helplessness. It is monsoon season, and people are worried there will be more rain and more flooding.”

‘Malaysia is coping’

Mercy Malaysia is responding to the emergency by conducting health assessments and distributing hygiene packs throughout the affected areas.

Relief workers from the NGO are particularly concerned with draining the standing water from villages and cities before water-borne diseases like dengue fever grow out of control. They are also delivering UNICEF-supplied water purification sachets and information on water safety to flood-stricken communities.

“We must take care of the stagnant water as quickly as possible,” asserts Dr. Mahmood. “These are challenging times, but the Malaysian people are chipping in to help other Malaysian people. And the government is giving the issue all its civil and military support. At the moment, Malaysia is coping with the crisis.”




19 January 2007:
UNICEF Radio correspondent Blue Chevigny talks with the President of Mercy Malaysia, Dr. Jemilah Mahmood, about the flood crisis.
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