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Myanmar, Republic of the Union of

UNICEF crisis response focuses on water and hygiene in aftermath of Cyclone Nargis

UNICEF Image: Myanmar, cylone
© Khin Maung Win/AFP/Getty Images
Cyclone-affected residents wash their clothes next to their destroyed houses in Dedaye, south of Yangon, in the aftermath a cyclone in the southwest region of Myanmar that cut off basic necessities.

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.

UNICEF Image: Myanmar, cylone
© AP Photo/Zhang Yunfei
In a photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, parents take their child to a hospital in Yangon. Residents of Myanmar's biggest city are struggling to recover from the effects of Cyclone Nargis, which destroyed thousands of homes.

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 Programmes 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.

© Reuters
Flooded villages are seen in this aerial view near an airport in Yangon on 5 May 2008, after Cyclone Nargis slammed into Myanmar's main city.

“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 mobilized,” 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.





6 May 2008:
UNICEF correspondent Chris Niles reports on UNICEF's emergency response to Cyclone Nargis. Footage courtesy of Reuters.
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5 May 2008:
UNICEF Deputy Director of Emergency Programmes Kari Egge describes what UNICEF is doing to help Myanmar children affected by Cyclone Nargis.
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6 May 2008:
UNICEF Representative in Myanmar Ramesh Shrestha discusses UNICEF's emergency response to the devastation caused by Cyclone Nargis.
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