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One year after Cyclone Nargis: Myanmar on hard road to recovery

UNICEF concerned that aid and attention waning for children and women still affected by the cyclone

Yangon/Geneva, 1 May 2009 — Communities devastated by Cyclone Nargis one year ago have faced formidable challenges during the year of recovery and rebuilding.  But the road to recovery was also marked by courage, resilience and relentless individual and collective enterprise in rebuilding life and livelihoods and in rekindling hope.

 “UNICEF has been active on the ground every day of the past year focusing on the recovery efforts,” said Ramesh Shrestha, UNICEF Representative in Myanmar. “The challenge facing the survivors of Cyclone Nargis now is that aid flow and attention has waned in the recovery phase. Unless the most crucial needs in reviving livelihoods are addressed – communities will need to continue relying on humanitarian support and sustaining the gains of the past year will be difficult.”

In education, UNICEF supplied learning materials and trained teachers and repaired and rebuilt schools to get children back into the classroom as quickly as possible. Nine out of the 37 child friendly model schools are now ready for the new school year in June 2009.

UNICEF also worked closely with partners in delivering critical health, nutrition and water and sanitation programmes, ensuring the prevention of major disease outbreaks and a deterioration in the malnutrition situation.

Emergency response has also had far-reaching implications for child protection programming. Family tracing and reunification has been a priority for UNICEF and so far hundreds of children have been reunited with their families or are now in other long term care arrangements.

Cyclone Nargis ravaged through Myanmar on 2-3 May 2008 leaving 140,000 people dead, 2.4 million severely affected and 800,000 displaced. Over 50% schools and nearly 75 per cent health facilities in the affected areas were destroyed or badly damaged. Loss of homes, forestry, assets and livelihoods were widespread. The Post Nargis Joint Assessment (PONJA) in July 2008 estimated the total value of damages and losses at an amount close to US$2 billion.

Here are some highlights of UNICEF’s response in key areas:

Health and Nutrition

UNICEF worked with the government and NGO partners to address the health needs of nearly 300,000 women and children of whom two thirds were under five years old, 51,000 were pregnant women and 48,000 were lactating women.

UNICEF efforts resulted in 90 per cent coverage of measles vaccination for children and 80 per cent coverage of routine immunization in all affected townships; 80 per cent of affected children and pregnant/lactating women have access to emergency, preventive and curative services for maternal, neonatal and child health (MNCH), including HIV. And 80 per cent of basic health facilities restart/revitalize MNCH services.

By conducting rapid nutrition assessments right from the outset of the disaster with the National Nutrition Centre, children and lactating women of all 36 affected townships were safeguarded against micronutrient deficiencies. Possible deterioration in nutrition situation was prevented by giving 54 per cent of eligible children (6-59 months) and pregnant/lactating women supplementary feeding. Half of the children diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition were given therapeutic food. No outbreaks of infectious diseases such as cholera, malaria and dengue hemorrhagic fever were recorded.

Water and Sanitation and Hygiene

UNICEF provided 250,000 affected people with 3 litres a day of safe drinking water and 10 litres a day of clean water for bathing, cooking and cleaning in 10 townships. 20,000 families, 500 schools and temporary settlements have access to sanitary latrines and clean environments as a result of UNICEF’s work.

UNICEF helped supply large number of jerry cans, plastic buckets and containers to households as well as schools and health facilities. UNICEF helped place eight water treatment plants in the Delta with the capacity to produce from 4,000 to 15,000 litres of safe water per hour.

Early recovery efforts included rehabilitation of 530 ponds and 246 dug wells. In helping address possible dry season and longer term water storage capability in households, UNICEF recently helped produce 50,000 glazed earthen jars each with a capacity to store 60 gallons. Families receiving one or two of these (as per need) are able to meet their water needs for two months.


Nine out of the 37 child friendly model schools are ready for classes in the new school year in June 2009. The improved school structure supports favourable learning environment with adequate water and sanitation facilities and provisions for disabled children. Ten more are to be ready by the end of 2009 and the rest by 2010.

UNICEF was a key actor in assisting children returning to school following the disaster and in some cases to improved schools. UNICEF supported more than 60 per cent of the affected schools as part of the emergency response to revitalize education in 2,740 affected primary schools, benefiting approximately 410,000 primary school children, along with 343 Early Child Development centres reaching 10,000 under five children.

Child Protection

As of April 2009, family tracing and reunification efforts have led to 575 children being reunified with either their parents or extended families and 1,396 separated and unaccompanied children have been registered. The remaining children will be brought under long term caring arrangements by June.

One hundred and thirty five community-run Child-Friendly Spaces (CFS) were made operational under supervision of trained NGO staff to provide access to psychosocial care and support for 29,300 children (15,100 girls and 14,200 boys) as well as to recreational and learning activities and referral services. Most of the children using CFS were between 5 and 12 years of age (17,237), 1,791 out of school and 137 children with disabilities were also enrolled.

UNICEF played an instrumental role in the first ever National Plan of Action on Protection of Children in Emergencies - a momentous step toward guiding a national child protection system with improved policies and help build capacity on child protection in emergencies among government and partners.

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 Myanmar, Tel: +95-1-375527-32, ext 1443, zchowdhury@unicef.org
Geoffrey Keele, UNICEF Thailand Tel: +66-2-356-9407, gkeele@unicef.org
Patrick McCormick, UNICEF New York Tel: +1 212 326 7426, pmccormick@unicef.org
Véronique Taveau, UNICEF Geneva, Tel: +41 22 909 5716, vtaveau@unicef.org




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