Myanmar: UNHCR concerned about welfare of widows and orphans six months after Nargis

Yangon, Myanmar, Wednesday 29th October 2008, The UN refugee agency has helped some 200,000 people with essential plastic sheets and mosquito nets in the six months since Cyclone Nargis hit the Myanmar's Irrawaddy Delta, but remains concerned about the welfare of many widows and orphans.

"UNHCR is a protection agency and our monitoring in the villages affected by Cyclone Nargis has found a number of vulnerable people such as women who lost their husbands and children who lost their parents to the cyclone," said Marc Rapoport, Operations Manager of UNHCR's office in Yangon.

"UNHCR's concern is that without adequate shelter, these vulnerable survivors could be at risk of displacement, which could put them in danger of exploitation, forced labor, prostitution and trafficking."

Rapoport said UNHCR needs to raise U.S.$1.2 million "to ensure a field presence, to be able to carry on our work helping those vulnerable people."

Although the aftermath of natural disasters - such as Cyclone Nargis, which hit Myanmar on the night of 2-3 May, 2008 -- is not part of UNHCR's mandate, the agency took a quick decision to be involved in the emergency response, focusing on shelter, distribution of non-food items and protection in the Delta.

UNHCR had the first land convoy to reach Myanmar last May (carrying emergency supplies from its stockpiles in neighboring Thailand) and also airlifted emergency supplies from Dubai to Yangon. The UN refugee agency has helped some 200,000 people with nearly 88,000 essential plastic sheets, more than 117,000 blankets, 113,000 mosquito nets, nearly 50,000 sets of pots and pans, nearly 100,000 jerry cans and almost 400,000 bars of soap.

As of 24 Oct. 2008, UNHCR and its partners had provided shelter for 93.5 percent of families needing it in the Laputta area of the Delta and for 87.9 percent of the families needing it in the Bogale area of the Delta.

The agency still needs money to be able to build shelters for up to 15,000 vulnerable people in Bogale and Laputta.

For further information, please contact:

Kitty McKinsey, Senior Regional Public Information Officer, Bangkok Mobile +668 1827 0280