By Ashley Jonathan Clements, Advocacy and Communications Advisor: Cyclone Nargis, Myanmar
Three months after Cyclone Nargis hit the Ayeyarwady Delta and Yangon Division in Myanmar, World Vision has established its largest-ever number of children’s programmes in a single country.
‘But there is still much work to do if we are to adequately support the children of the Delta,’ said World Vision Response Manager, Judy Moore.
According to the United Nations children’s agency, nearly 700,000 children are still in need of long-term assistance following Cyclone Nargis. ‘We need to sustain our efforts so children and their families can make a complete recovery from the devastation [wrought] by Cyclone Nargis,’ said a spokesperson for UNICEF.
The recently released Post-Nargis Joint Assessment (PONJA) identified ongoing threats to the wellbeing of children following May’s cyclone. Among the most significant threats highlighted in the report were child labour, school dropouts, malnutrition, and trafficking.
Some 2.4 million people were affected in the storm which hit Myanmar three months ago, leaving 140,000 dead and missing. Forty to fifty percent are believed to have been children.
Children at greatest risk
According to the PONJA report, children are also ‘at greater risk of abuse, violence, exploitation, and neglect.’
‘Children are among the most vulnerable after a disaster like Cyclone Nargis and require special attention to see them through the hard times that follow,’ said Moore.
In response to these threats, World Vision is currently running 84 Child Friendly Spaces, serving over 10,000 children across Yangon and the Delta. These centres for children provide psychosocial assistance to those affected. Stocked with toys, playing materials, and equipment, the centres provide the young participants with a safe place to play and recover from the effects of Cyclone Nargis.
This intervention represents the largest number of ‘spaces’ that World Vision has ever established in a single country following an emergency.
‘Child-Friendly Spaces provide a safe space for children to play and learn and meet with peers,’ said World Vision Myanmar Protection Manager, Makiba Yamano. ‘We help them express their feelings and better cope with their unusual experiences.’
In the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis, many children were separated from their families. A vital role played by the Child-Friendly Spaces has been to identify particularly vulnerable children, especially those separated or unaccompanied.
World Vision has so far identified and registered 47 such children and closely monitors the living conditions and safety of these children.
With the planting season now over, much farmland remains un-sown. The destruction of Nargis did not spare the tools, animals, or seed needed to sow rice. The salt water washed in by the storm has also rendered acres of land unusable.
As a result, hundreds of thousands of residents of the Delta are expected to face food insecurities for months or even years to come. Once again, children will feel the effects of this the most, with the threat of malnutrition facing the youngest residents of affected regions if adequate support is not provided, according to PONJA.
Also of great concern to World Vision is the pressure on children to work. Children as young as 11 are under pressure not to attend school and to join the work force instead. ‘With the economic impact of Nargis hitting many families hard, children risk having to take up work and contribute to the family’s income, rather than remaining in the classroom to learn and grow,’ said World Vision’s Yamano.
With many schools destroyed and teachers lost in the Cyclone, receiving a quality education has been in jeopardy for many children affected by Nargis. World Vision is among many NGOs looking to provide temporary schooling to ensure children receive the education they deserve.
World Vision’s response
World Vision’s relief response is targeting some 338,000 people across the Delta and affected regions of Yangon. Priority areas in addition to child protection include water, sanitation, hygiene, and food security.
As the response begins towards rehabilitation and recovery, livelihoods will be an additional priority area of World Vision’s work.