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UNICEF concerned about looming health threat while stepping up programmes for children affected by Cyclone Sidr

DHAKA, 23 November 2007 - A week after devastating Cyclone Sidr struck Bangladesh, UNICEF is concerned that hundreds of thousands of children across the affected areas remain vulnerable to the threat of disease and malnutrition unless urgently needed humanitarian relief reaches them in time.

“The cyclone has predisposed thousands of children and women to the increased risk of illness and death due to malnutrition,” said Dr. Iyorlumun Uhaa, Chief of Health & Nutrition for UNICEF Bangladesh. “Of the estimated five million people affected, half are children and one eighth or 600,000 are under the age of five. The cold weather and vulnerability to cold, hunger, trauma, diarrhoea and other communicable diseases will increase many times over unless urgent life-saving assistance is provided to children and women immediately.”

While relief operations led by the government, with the support of the UN and NGOs are at full tilt and most parts of the country have been reached with the exception of a few remote and inaccessible areas, other critical issues remain for children.
Water supply in the coastal areas has been contaminated with saline water and debris presenting a major technical challenge in providing alternative sources rapidly. In addition, most household sanitation facilities have been either damaged or destroyed. Without access to clean water and sanitation children are especially at risk of diarrhoeal and other waterborne diseases which can be life-threatening. Action is well underway, but the response may need to continue until the surface water sources can be replenished by rains, which are not due for another 6 months.

Unknown numbers of children are thought to have lost either one or both parents to the cyclone, said Aissa Sow, UNICEF Child Protection Officer, “Separated and unaccompanied children are living without care, security and support facilities. These children are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. In other cases, it is hard for the affected families that lost everything to adequately care for children.”  UNICEF and partners have already established child friendly spaces in the three worst affected districts and have begun the process of tracing and registering children.

In addition, it is estimated that one million primary school age children have been affected by the cyclone. Of these, 600,000 are currently not in class because school buildings have been either damaged or destroyed or are serving as shelters for families left homeless or displaced by the cyclone. 

UNICEF Response

Children are at the core of UNICEF’s response to the emergency and the agency is substantially strengthening its support in nutrition, supplementary food, water, sanitation, hygiene and essential medicines and protection – the most vital needs according to UN assessment teams reporting back from the worst affected areas. 

Water & Sanitation
• UNICEF moved two mobile water treatment plants to affected districts that are currently operational, two more are on their way to other districts.
• DPHE (Department of Public Health Engineering) is using UNICEF cash assistance to buy jerry cans from the local market and to repair water points.
• DPHE has also been using materials from the stock pre-positioned by UNICEF, mainly tubewell items to reactivate water points.

Health & Nutrition
• The Ministry of Health has made essential medicines available in district reserve stores and Central Medical Store Department (CMSD) for immediate needs and response, including UNICEF supplied drugs.
• 92 MT of BP5 high energy biscuits are on their way to districts for distribution directly from Chittagong port.
• UNICEF is procuring blended food to provide to children in affected districts for up to three months.

• UNICEF is working with the government and partners including Save the Children Alliance, BRAC, Plan International, WFP to assess the damage with the aim of getting children back to school and studies as soon as possible by reestablishing classes in temporary learning spaces and supplying teaching and learning materials.

• The process of identifying separated, unaccompanied and distressed children has begun with NGOs. Identifed children are being registered with the local government authorities.
• Ten child friendly spaces have been made operational in the three worst affected districts. Over 1900 recreational kits are being made available of which 300 are already being utilized in these spaces. Psychosocial sessions will be part of the planned activities.
• Referral of children to specialized agencies and support for their reintegration with families will be part of longer term interventions
Non-Food Assistance
• As part of non-food assistance 100,000 blankets, 60,000 children’s clothes, 60,000 family kits (containing 14 essential items) and 60,000 plastic sheets are being procured for use in the affected areas.

UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence.  The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS.  UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.

For more information, please contact:

Zafrin Chowdhury, UNICEF Bangladesh, +88 01713049469, zchowdhury@unicef.org
Patrick McCormick, UNICEF New York, + 1 212 326 7426, pmccormick@unicef.org
Veronique Taveau, UNICEF Geneva. +41 792169401, vtaveau@unicef.org
Miranda Eeles, UNICEF Geneva. +41 22 909 5715, meeles@unicef.org
Katey Grusovin, UNICEF South Asia Media Hub +91 9810530715, kgrusovin@unicef.org





19 November 2007:
UNICEF correspondent Anwulika Okafor reports on the aftermath of Cyclone Sidr in Bangladesh.
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19 November 2007: UNICEF Representative in Bangladesh Louis-Georges Arsenault speaks with UNICEF Radio correspondent Blue Chevigny about the devastating effects of Cyclone Sidr.
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