Friday, November 22, 2013

In the second week after Typhoon Haiyan-- help is getting through

Children bathe and wash their clothes as the first water treatment plant in Tacloban came back to full operating capacity. © UNICEF/PFPG2013P-0297
By Maya Igarashi Wood, Emergency Officer for UNICEF East Asia and Pacific

What has happened since last Friday, when I first wrote about our efforts to help the children affected by Typhoon Haiyan? A lot… most of it good, as you must have heard and seen through different media.

After my post last Friday on the first week at UNICEF East Asia and the Pacific regional office on our response to Typhoon Haiyan, I was overwhelmed by the reaction of many UNICEF supporters. I would like to thank all of those who have read it, shared it and supported the work of UNICEF to relieve the suffering of the typhoon affected people in the Philippines.

So let me recapitulate this 2nd of UNICEF's work.

Coordination meetings amongst UNICEF Country office (Philippines), regional office (Bangkok) and Headquarter (New York) are still taking place daily. We continue to support UNICEF Philippines to identify additional staff needs and accelerate the immediate response activities, but we have also started to discuss the needs and plan for the longer term response and recovery based on the “build back better” concept. The children and families whose lives have been upended and who have lost everything will need our help for a long time, even after their urgent needs are met.

On the ground, more and more relief is reaching the affected people.

Access to Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) remains a major challenge in many affected areas. However, UNICEF with its partners and the government authorities have managed to re-establish the water system in Tacloban city, and safe drinking water is now available to over 270,000 people. We are also working hard to improve access to toilets and other sanitation facilities.


Water from functioning water points help provide a source of fun, cleanliness, washing and good hygiene for Typhoon affected people. © UNICEF/Philippines/2013/Kent Page

Congested living conditions in evacuation centres – especially when combined with general shortages of food, water and sanitation - are a recipe for disease outbreaks. Measles and diarrhoeal diseases are one of the biggest threats to young children. The UNICEF Health team is providing support to the Philippines Department of Health and a Measles immunisation in campaign has already started in the evacuation centres. A mass vaccination campaign in wider areas is ready to be launched. The Regional Health expert, Nabila Zaka says “the key to this -- not a small task -- is what’s called an operational cold chain and good cold chain logistics. This will maintain the vaccines at stable temperatures at every step of storage and transportation, so they will be effective”.

In devastating disasters such as this one, UNICEF also plays a key role in providing protection for affected children. The first UNICEF-supported Child Friendly Spaces – a place where children can talk, learn and play without fear - opened on 20th the Department of Education and other partners to prepare all the schools to be reopened in late November or early December.
The first child friendly space opens in Rizal Central School, Tacloban City. Rizal now serves as an evacuation centre for families who lost their homes in the aftermath of typhoon Yolanda. ©UNICEF Philippines/2013/KPage
On top of that, UNICEF is now striving to reach children beyond the cities. One of my colleagues from the regional emergency team is currently helping with an inter-agency assessment of needs, as part of a team visiting remote areas where so far little relief has arrived – mostly due to logistic and geographic challenges. His team aims to reach 100 municipalities and investigate needs in at least three barangays (village) per municipality. It is a massive exercise. The good news is that in some of the areas he has visited the suffering has not been as bad as in Tacloban. He said, “In these areas, schools and hospitals have been reopened although people’s houses and livelihoods have been damaged. People are already working themselves to get back to their normal life”. This shows how resilient they are.

These response activities, including procurement of vaccines and other relief items and the establishment of ways to deliver them safely -- have been possible thanks to the wonderful support provided by individuals and private enterprises around the world. Yasumasa Kimura, chief of regional Private Fundraising and Partnership team said, “Their support to UNICEF for this emergency has been absolutely incredible. The generosity and speed with which people have responded to calls for help from our network of UNICEF National Committees and Country Offices has been really impressive”.

At last week, I wrote that the needs were overwhelming. Today, I feel confident that all the support and efforts made by UNICEF and partners are contributing to improving the situation. The resilience of affected people in the areas the Typhoon struck is inspiring and means we can do more to help. And we must do more. There are so many children who will continue to need our support for some time to come.

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