Myanmar Cyclone Two Weeks On

16/05/2008

Thousands of children lost and in danger

Almost two weeks on from the devastating Cyclone Nargis and with around half a million children affected, DEC agencies are now working around the clock to address the needs of children in the affected regions.

According to Save the Children up to two thousand of the youngest survivors of the Burma cyclone are lost and unable to find their parents and Save the Children's team in Myanmar (Burma) is working tirelessly with the UN and others to trace the families of separated children.

Guy Cave, Save the Children's Deputy Director in Burma, said: "The youngest are often the hardest to help as they may be unable to tell us the name of their home village or even the names of their parents. The most urgent task for us is ensuring they are safe and well-cared for. We then work on the more complicated job of locating their parents. Imagine trying to locate someone with no phones, no address, no television or radio - no means of communication whatsoever. It's difficult, but we reunited thousands after the Tsunami and we'll do the same here."

Although exact figures are difficult to determine Save the Children's 43-strong child protection team is concerned for the safety and survival of these acutely vulnerable children, who have been separated from their parents and families. Most children are accompanied by adults, but not necessarily anyone related to them.

In Myaung Mya, World Vision have reported about 500 survivors camped about 70 miles north of their now-decimated homes. Nargis’s 12-foot tidal wave and nearly 120 MPH winds left many of these children without parents, brothers or sisters.

A World Vision spokesman said: “It wasn’t hard to find these orphans, especially in the shelter camps. They had nowhere else to go. All of the children had similar stories of tragedy. They said that many of their family members had died when the tidal wave crashed into their town, more than 20 miles inland. One 8-year-old girl lost all four members of her family.”

Children separated from their parents and carers will not only be in great distress, they are also at enormous risk. With children living in cramped temporary camps, close to unfamiliar adults, they are vulnerable to abuse, neglect and illness. Young children in particular are not equipped to care for themselves. Children are also at risk from traffickers.

To help these children World Vision has set up 37 'Child-friendly spaces' in and around Yangon to help children cope with devastating consequences of the disaster as many children have been left orphaned, injured or vulnerable to disease. Some of the estimated 500,000 children affected will be able to play games, gain informal education and share their experiences in a caring and supportive environment facilitated by trained World Vision volunteers.

Samson Jeyakumar, World Vision's child protection specialist, said: "Thousands of children are emotionally vulnerable and may be at risk of psychological trauma after witnessing unimaginable horrors such as losing loved ones and having to flee their homes.

"Child-friendly spaces will enable children to return to some sort of familiarity and help establish a routine, while parents try to deal with the practical realities of displacement."

Save the Children is setting up safe play areas in temporary camps around Burma. These 'play schools' are critical in the aftermath of a major emergency. They are a safe place for children to start the recovery process from the trauma of the cyclone and give their parents much needed time to begin the long and difficult task of rebuilding their lives.

Two weeks on from the date that the cyclone hit, DEC agencies are continuing to distribute emergency supplies reaching over 350,000 people with food, clean water and medicine.