UNICEF sounds alarm about impact of recent Asian floods on children

UNICEF sounds alarm about impact of recent Asian floods on children

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The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is raising the alarm about the toll faced by millions of children across Southern and Eastern Asia after an especially fierce monsoon season has led to a series of deadly floods in Pakistan, India, Myanmar and Afghanistan.

“The monsoon season hits South Asia with regularity, but we’ve seen it strike with special fury this year,” UNICEF spokesperson Rafael Hermoso said today. “You can look at a map and make an arc over the affected countries.”

The worst affected is Pakistan, where an estimated 2.15 million people – mainly women and children – have been hit by floods that followed four days of heavy rain in the wake of Cyclone Yemyin late last month. Some 200 people have been killed and another 200 are missing. UNICEF has issued an appeal for $5 million to deal with immediate needs.

At least 300,000 children under the age of five are suffering, according to UNICEF, with many areas still cut off by flood waters, and many water distribution systems damaged or destroyed, leading to poor hygiene, unsanitary conditions and outbreaks of waterborne diseases.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has also been providing emergency assistance, including 120,000 chlorine tablets; over one million purification tablets; 1,000 latrines; 151 ‘school-in-a-box’ kits – each containing such items as flipchart pads, markers, pens, crayons, erasers, exercise books, rulers, pencils, chalk and chalkboards; and almost 75 megatons of food. At least 14,000 combined tent and shelter kits have also been distributed to aid the Government’s response efforts.

The regions hit hardest by the floods in Pakistan, Balochistan and Sindh, are also among the country’s most disadvantaged, leaving the children and women there especially vulnerable, Mr. Hermoso said.

He said UNICEF’s experience in responding to Asian floods had revealed the importance of pre-positioning emergency supplies so that stocks are in place before a disaster strikes.

“The tsunami [in December 2004] underscored the critical need for this and we have seen it work in all four countries,” he said, referring to Pakistan, India, Myanmar and Afghanistan.

“In Pakistan and Myanmar, we have been able to distribute essential life-saving materials in part because of supplies that were pre-positioned following the earthquake [in Pakistan in October 2005] and tsunami respectively. Of course, those supplies need to be replenished so that we can respond in the future.”

In Myanmar, UNICEF has been able to distribute essential drugs, oral rehydration salts, water purification tablets and family kits to affected areas after floods struck the regions near the western, central and southern coasts, destroying homes, covering other buildings in mud and contaminating drinking wells.

Emergency UNICEF supplies have now arrived in the town of Thandwe in Rakhine state, which borders Bangladesh and has particularly hard hit by recent torrential rains. UNICEF staff that had been in Rakhine for a polio vaccination campaign have now begun a rapid post-flood assessment mission.

Flash floods have also struck the Indian states of West Bengal and Orissa in the east and Rajasthan in the west after recent monsoon rains, and UNICEF has started responding to local government requests for assistance.

Last month in Afghanistan flooding led to the deaths of more than 100 people and the displacement of thousands of others, and UNICEF has started handing out emergency health kits, water bladders and other supplies and pre-positioning further supplies for over 5,000 affected families.