“There is an urgent need to help children recover from this tragic experience. Communities have expressed how extremely anxious they are about their children’s well-being.” – Save the Children
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Children are the most vulnerable in times of disaster. That is why it is important to ensure the safety of children after a disaster has occurred, said Save the Children, an international aid organization working for the welfare of children worldwide.
After super typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) ravaged Eastern Visayas, Save the Children said millions of children were displaced and do not have access to adequate shelter or appropriate medicines and health care. As per estimates, the group said 5.4 million children were affected by the typhoon.
In a press briefing held on Nov. 22, Save Children shared the situation of children in Eastern Visayas and the help they have extended to the children and their families.
“The crisis that the Philippines is facing right now is the worst humanitarian crisis I have ever seen,” said Ned Olney, Operations Team Leader and Save the Children Philippines’ Deputy Director. He said figures of destroyed homes by super typhoon Yolanda are six times higher than the number of destroyed homes when super storm Sandy struck Haiti and the 2006 earthquake in Iran.
And in this dire time, in the aftermath of a disaster, Olney said it is important that children are kept safe and protected.
Children’s situation in the aftermath of the typhoon
In Yolanda’s aftermath, many children were left homeless, Lynette Lim, Communications Manager of Save the Children, said. “Some children have become orphaned. Some also became sick because of unsanitary conditions as they are loitering in the streets without a routine, making them vulnerable to diseases.”
Lim was in Palo, Leyte on Nov. 7, before Yolanda struck the province. In the early days after the typhoon, Lim said, devastated areas had become foul-smelling because of lack of portalets or portable toilets. “There is no running water, children are defecating in the streets. The Tacloban Convention Center, which became the evacuation center, is reeking,” she said in a separate interview with Bulatlat.com.
The Save the Children is one of the organizations that first responded to the families who survived the typhoon.
Affected children are more likely to suffer hunger because of lack of food. While many relief goods have been distributed, there are still areas that have not been reached by aid either by the government or other agencies. In the long term, to be able to feed the children, Lim said, the parents need to find jobs. “Without a job, it is unlikely to feed their children.”
Jesse Hartness, Save the Children’s Advisor for Nutrition in Emergencies visited Iloilo and Roxas for an assessment of the children’s health. He also cited the importance of livelihood to be able to feed the children. “People in the coastal areas are also severely affected. Their livelihood was destroyed by the typhoon. With the source of livelihood being destroyed, the parents have to decide how much food they can give to each of their children,” Hartness said in the briefing.
Aside from hunger, children are also suffering from trauma. Lim said surviving the typhoon is a traumatic experience for children. In its report, Save the Children said many children have witnessed firsthand horrifying scenes, and struggled to survive when buildings collapsed and storm surges hit the coast.
They added, “If children do not receive appropriate psychosocial support, and get back into a routine in school, their recovery is likely to be delayed.”
Lim said some parents reported that their children behaved differently after the typhoon. “The children are less cheerful and get easily scared when it rains,” she told Bulatlat.com.
“These children went through a lot. Their families just evacuated for the night before the typhoon and then the next day it was all swept away. Children have no schools, no safe place to play and no shelter,” she added.
Children must always be protected during crisis, said Olney. He also emphasized that it also important to protect children before and after crisis.
In an effort to protect the children from other forms of vulnerabilities and abuses, and to help them recover, the group in partnership with Unicef and local communities, set up a “Child-Friendly Space” to be able to address the psychological and social needs of the children. The first center was opened in Tacloban City, Leyte on Wednesday, Nov. 20.
“This center is a safer place for children especially while their parents are busy looking for missing family members or while they look for livelihood,” Olney added.
Lim said that in the Child-Friendly Space center, children have routines. They play games, sing songs and talk about their experiences. They are encouraged to share their stories to help them recover. Lim said about 50 children are housed in the first child-friendly space in Tacloban. There are two more centers that are in the process of being set up4.
“The additional centers will be built near the schools,” Olney said adding that eight more centers are going to be built in the Southern part of Tacloban and in the remote parts of Capiz and Iloilo.
“There is an urgent need to help children recover from this tragic experience. Communities have expressed how extremely anxious they are about their children’s well-being,” David Bloomer, Save the Children’s Child Protection Regional Advisor said in a statement.
“Children react to crises in very different ways, and the support they receive in the aftermath of a crisis is crucial to determining how resilient they can be in the longer-term. Evidence suggests that the faster children get back into school and back into normal and regular activities, the faster they will be able to recover,” he added.
These centers, Bloomer said, will allow more time for parents to focus on re-establishing their homes and livelihoods, while ensuring that the longer-term and more specialized needs of children who survived the typhoon are addressed.
The Save the Children also reported that they helped children to reunite with their families. They target to reach 500,000 affected children.
Save the Children also encourages breastfeeding than giving formula milk to babies especially in times of calamity.
“In times of calamities, when all the structures are down children below five years old are at most risk,” said Jesse Hartness, Save the Children’s Advisor for Nutrition in Emergencies.
In Tacloban and other devastated areas in Eastern Visayas, Hartness said, children have limited access to food, which may lead to malnutrition. “Children would also suffer from diarrhea, especially since there is a high risk of water contamination,” Hartness.
“In situations where everything is down – from their houses, schools and hospitals – children and lactating mothers are more likely to acquire diseases. Families whose houses are devastated by the typhoon have to campout in their property. And if they continue to be exposed, there are risks of children becoming ill,” Hartness added.
That is why they urged mothers to breastfeed their children. “Not only does it provide infants with a complete form of nutrition, but it reduces their risk of contracting illnesses like diarrhea, which are common in the aftermath of disasters.”
Olney also explained that with the absence of clean water, it is best to breastfeed babies to avoid acquiring diseases. “Formula feeding requires clean water. Without clean and safe water, the infant’s life is in danger,” Olney said. He said feeding bottles and its nipples need to be cleaned and sterilized and not providing these to an infant who’s bottle-fed will only endanger his life.
“In emergencies, it is the youngest who are at the greatest risk of serious illness. In fact, non-breastfed infants are 50 times more likely to be hospitalized from diarrhea than breastfed babies,” Save the Children said in a statement.
Meanwhile, to address the medical needs of affected children and their families, Save the Children has also set up six mobile clinics in Tacloban City. Hospitals in the affected provinces were also destroyed by the typhoon. Olney said they have also set up a mobile clinic in Dulag, Leyte and has assisted two mothers who gave birth. They also plan to reach other areas such as the northern part of Cebu and Panay.
Save the Children also reported that they are working in Leyte, in Tacloban City and other affected areas, and will establish a field base in Ormoc. “We are working in Panay Island out of our base in Roxas as well as establishing a field base in Estancia, reaching the hard-hit eastern coastal areas; we have established a logistics support team in Cebu Island and we have deployed expert medical teams attending to the needs of the most vulnerable in Tacloban and in small islands at the coast off Panay, which has been reached only by few, if any, agencies.”
“There are areas that are just as devastated as Tacloban but the relief operations are still sorely wanting. There will be a scale up of humanitarian operations in these areas,” Olney said.
Rehabilitation and reconstruction needed
Olney said that while the government has preventive measures, such as evacuating families before the typhoon, the challenge now is to how to rebuild and reconstruct.
“It is now a question of what to do in the aftermath. The people have to rebuild their lives back. Schools and homes and other infrastructures need to be reconstructed,” Olney said.
For Save the Children, it is important that reconstruction is done the right way. Citing as example the 2004 tsunami that affected South Asia, it said, reconstruction projects were substandard, not well planned because of corruption; Olney said this should not happen in the reconstruction of homes in Eastern Visayas. “It is a disaster after a disaster. We do not want that to happen again.”
The 2004 tsunami brought about by the Indian Ocean earthquake happened in Dec. 26 and affected many countries in South Asia killing over 230,000 people. The Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami was one of the deadliest natural disasters recorded in history. The Worldwatch Institute said in its website that hundreds and thousands of survivors were left homeless despite the aid coming for the reconstruction of houses. “Some observers say that only about one third of the reconstruction aid that was promised after the tsunami struck in Dec. 2004 has actually been distributed, and much of the money has been squandered due to corruption, mismanagement, and unnecessary duplication of aid efforts,” the website read.
Aside from emergency relief efforts, Save the Children also aims to provide long-term needs and building resilience, focusing in Childs Protection, Education, Water/Sanitation/Hygiene, Food security and livelihoods, Health, Nutrition and Shelter across the three worst-hit areas on Leyte and Panay Islands.