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Washington, D.C. (February 22, 2015) — As vital aid reaches communities devastated by Cyclone Winston, thousands of Fijians are left stranded in evacuation centers, uncertain about when they will return home.
Entire villages have been flattened by the mega storm, which packed winds of up to 200 miles per hour and is widely regarded as the strongest storm ever recorded in the southern hemisphere.
Eighty percent of the population is estimated to be without power, and water sources and hospitals have also been damaged. Save the Children says that along with meeting immediate needs like food, water and shelter, the wellbeing of vulnerable children in evacuation centers must be prioritized.
Schools will not reopen for at least a week, with some being used as evacuation centers. There are more than 80 evacuation centers still operating across the country, in schools and other community buildings, and some are hosting as many as 300 children.
"There is a very real need for child protection services in these evacuation centers to ensure the wellbeing of children," said Iris Low-McKenzie CEO of Save the Children Fiji.
Part of Save the Children's emergency response will include setting up "child friendly spaces" at evacuation centers, which will provide children with a safe place to be engaged in educational play with other children, while giving parents a much-needed opportunity to go out and assess the damage.
At the same time, the death toll from Cyclone Winston continues to mount—current assessments report 21 people have been confirmed to have died so far, including two children, ages 10 and 12.
"This is an enormous tragedy in Fiji. Our nation has never faced anything like this before, and we still don't know the full extent of the storm's impact," Ms. Low-McKenzie said. "What we do know is that the recovery process will take many, many months as families who have lost their homes and livelihoods slowly rebuild. Organizations like Save the Children will be doing our best to support these families."
Save the Children has been working in Fiji since 1974 providing education and children protection services. The aid agency has stockpiled emergency supplies to ensure children can return to school as soon as possible. This includes school bags, classroom kits and child friendly spaces kits for evacuation centers if schools are damaged.
Save the Children gives children in the United States and around the world a healthy start, the opportunity to learn and protection from harm. We invest in childhood — every day, in times of crisis and for our future. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.