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Children living in dangerous conditions following the aftermath of Bangladesh cyclone

GENEVA - DHAKA, November 30 2007 -  The risk of diarrhoea, acute respiratory infection and other cold related diseases continue to pose a serious threat to children in the aftermath of Cyclone Sidr which struck Bangladesh on November 15. An estimated 300,000 children under the age of 5 are living throughout the disaster zone in makeshift camps with their families, surviving on meager food and water, without proper shelter or access to basic amenities.

According to latest Government figures 8.4 million people have been affected by the cyclone, approximately half of them children.

“Children often bear the greatest brunt of natural disasters, needing the greatest assistance and care,” said Louis-Georges Arsenault, UNICEF Representative in Bangladesh. Acknowledging the difficulties in access and the logistical challenge of providing relief on a massive scale, Mr. Arsenault nevertheless stressed the urgent need of providing supplementary food for children. “Food alone is not enough to alleviate the disease burden. If they are not fed micronutrients quickly and are not protected by vitamins and iron, and if diarrhoeal diseases spread, they will die,” said Mr. Arsenault.

Already outbreaks of diseases such as diarrhea, pneumonia, fever and typhoid have been reported in the media. The risk of diarrhoeal diseases spreading multiplies as people resort to drinking and cooking with water from rivers and canals polluted with storm debris and the remains of dead animals. The already high prevalence of chronic and acute malnutrition among children in Bangladesh makes them even more susceptible to illnesses.

In addition, the availability of foods in southern Bangladesh is set to worsen as people have lost their livelihoods, crops, grain stores and livestock, with an increase in market prices expected.

To address immediate needs, UNICEF is poised to commence a mass distribution of BP5 biscuits and family kits from December 1 to children under three years of age, and pregnant and lactating women, by road and sea, to the six most severely affected districts: Patuakhali, Barguna, Barisal, Bagerhat, Pirojpur and Jhalokathi. The distribution is being carried out jointly with the World Food Programme (WFP), Save the Children USA and local NGOs. BP-5, a high energy and ready to eat biscuit containing proteins and micro-nutrients, will be provided for several days followed by blended foods from WFP and the government.

UNICEF is working to tackle long-term malnutrition and address the expected rise in malnutrition rates over the next 3 to 6 months by distributing supplementary feeding for approximately 340,000 children under 5 years of age and approximately 124,000 pregnant and lactating women to stave off further deterioration in their nutritional status. A Vitamin A campaign is being planned in the affected districts to boost the immune status of children and further reduce mortality from infectious diseases.

With over one million homes and 3000 primary schools either damaged or destroyed, traditional family and social structures in towns and villages have been either stretched to the limit or have simply broken down. Many children may have lost family members and friends and hundreds of thousands are still out of school - causing a sense of insecurity and instability.

UNICEF and the Save the Children Alliance are working with local partners and government bodies to ensure that their basic needs are being met as quickly as possible. Already 30 child centers have been established serving the needs of around 5000 children in three districts Patuakhali, Barguna & Pirojpur. A total of 380 planned in the coming weeks across all 9 cyclone affected districts.

UNICEF is supporting the national response in the areas of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) nutrition, education, child protection, education and the provision of non-food items and will continue its support to the affected populations for the next 6 months until the harvests begin in summer.

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 further information, please contact:
Zafrin Chowdhury, UNICEF Bangladesh, +880 1713 049469 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





21 November 2007:
UNICEF correspondent Elizabeth Kiem reports on the visit by a UN Joint mission to cyclone-affected districts in Bangladesh.
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19 November 2007:
UNICEF correspondent Anwulika Okafor reports on the aftermath of Cyclone Sidr in Bangladesh.
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