Bopha aftermath: UN body highlights ‘silent threats’ to children

Sunday, December 16, 2012
Bopha as a powerful category 4 super typhoon
on December 1
Manila: UNICEF and leading children’s non-governmental organizations have expressed concern about the threats to children in the aftermath of Typhoon Bopha.

In a statement co-authored by UNICEF, Plan International and Save the Children, the three organizations called for attention to be paid to the looming silent threats of malnutrition and abuse and exploitation of vulnerable children.

As the number of missing or dead from the typhoon, known as Pablo in the Philippines, topped 1,600, the three organizations particularly focused on two pressing issues for children that have received less attention: the protection of vulnerable children and malnutrition.

The joint statement highlights child trafficking as a potential risk in the most affected areas.

“Mindanao is a known source of trafficking, especially for labour. In an environment of chaos and confusion, children are vulnerable to trafficking, and the agencies urge increased awareness of these threats among local government and other community leaders. Heightened awareness is the first step towards prevention,” the statement said.

UNICEF Philippines
Country Representative
Tomoo Hozumi
The organizations also stressed the importance of creating ‘child-friendly spaces’ in communities, where children can be registered, monitored and where they can play, learn and socialize to regain a sense of normalcy and childhood – essential for their psychological recovery from the disaster.

“The Government of the Philippines and the concerned Local Government Units have been doing commendable work in response to the aftermath of Typhoon Pablo despite so many challenges,” said Tomoo Hozumi, UNICEF Philippines Representative.

“In this damaged environment, it is particularly important to pay attention to the vulnerability of children. We have seen unscrupulous adults take advantage of these situations in other parts of the world. Through clear information and awareness in communities, we can ensure that we don’t let these children become double victims of their circumstances.”

The statement also highlights the dangers posed by underlying malnutrition rates, which were above national averages in this area even before the typhoon struck.

“Baseline nutritional status in the affected areas prior to the current emergency shows that children in the affected areas are already vulnerable to malnutrition. These low baseline levels indicate that it won’t take much for children to become severely malnourished given the environment of poor water and sanitation, as well as food insecurity,” the statement said.

“We must not wait for malnutrition to reach dangerous levels, before we act,” said Hozumi of UNICEF. “For young infants, breastfeeding provides all the nutrients needed, as well as offering excellent protection from disease, as the mothers’ immunity is shared with the baby. We urge all agencies working in these communities, in all sectors, to support mothers, and protect their rights to breastfeed their children.”

UNICEF is supporting government and non-government partners to conduct rapid nutrition surveys of children under-five years of age in the most affected areas, as well as counselling for breastfeeding mothers. UNICEF is positioning supplies to treat cases of acute malnutrition as they occur.
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