Myanmar

Six months after cyclone in Myanmar, Save the Children warns of new risks facing children affected by the storm

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Six months after Cyclone Nargis swept across Myanmar, a looming water crisis and the impact of lost livelihoods threaten the well-being of children and families made vulnerable by the storm.

Cyclone Nargis cut a swath of destruction across Myanmar's southern coast on May 2-3, 2008. More than 130,000 people - including tens of thousands of children - died or disappeared, while more than 1 million people lost their homes. In addition, the agriculture and fishing industries in the Irrawaddy Delta were devastated, leaving families with no way to earn an income or feed themselves.

The storm also flooded low-lying areas, contaminating wells, containment ponds and rivers. Salinity of these traditional sources of drinking water remains high. As the dry season begins this month in Myanmar, families will have few options for obtaining clean drinking water, increasing the risk of disease.

"The water shortage that typically comes with the dry season is being exacerbated by the unusually high salt content in water sources in the Delta - a lingering result of the cyclone," said Andrew Kirkwood, Save the Children's country director in Myanmar. "The lack of clean water will directly impact the health of children. Scarce family resources will be further strained if they must purchase water, as will relationships among communities if they must compete for this resource."

Save the Children is planning to implement a variety of measures to increase access to safe water (including setting up reverse-osmosis desalination plants) and improve families' ability to cope over the coming months and monitor children's health.

Save the Children will also continue to assist farmers, fishermen and others to rejuvenate their livelihoods and incomes, a program all the more critical if families are to deal with the potential financial shock of a water shortage.

"Restoring the means to earn a living is vital to helping vulnerable families pay additional expenses, including medical costs," said Kirkwood. "It is expensive to rebuild one's life, and even more so for the poor. Any new financial obligations could force people to make difficult choices in regard to the food they buy or whether they can send their children to school."

Save the Children has been working in Myanmar for 13 years and is one of the largest nongovernmental organisations operating in the country. Save the Children's ongoing emergency-response programs are focused on child protection, food aid, health and nutrition, education assistance, shelter, and water and sanitation. To date, the organisation - which is working in 14 of the 15 hardest-hit townships - has reached nearly 500,000 people with lifesaving food and water, shelter materials, and household and hygiene items.

MEDIA ADVISORY

Save the Children experts, including Myanmar Country Director Andrew Kirkwood and Bangladesh Country Director Kelly Stevenson, are available to comment on the status of emergency response efforts in their countries, as Asia next month marks the 6-month and 1-year anniversaries of two deadly cyclones in Myanmar and Bangladesh respectively.

Please contact Kate Conradt (Myanmar) on + 1 202-294-9700 or Mike Kiernan (US) on + 1 202-460-0614 if you would like to arrange an interview with either or both country directors.

We are prepared to talk about a range of issues - including:

- how a current water crisis, plus credit problems, are hindering recovery efforts in the delta region of Myanmar;

- how years of emergency preparation work in coastal communities in Bangladesh greatly reduced the death toll from Cyclone Sidr

- how officials in Bangladesh and Myanmar have succeeded in helping tens of thousands of storm-impacted children return to school

- how more work needs to be done throughout Asia, including Myanmar, to prepare coastal communities for future emergencies

RESOURCES

To view the video of Myanmar 6 Months On please click here

To view the photo essay Myanmar 6 Months On: Family Tracing and Reunification please click here

For Save the Children New Zealand please contact Shelley McCarten, Communications Advisor on 04 381 7573 / 021 108 9131 / shelley.mccarten@savethechildren.org.nz

Save the Children is the world's leading independent organisation for children, with members in 28 countries making a difference to children's lives in over 120 countries. Save the Children fights for children's rights and delivers immediate and lasting improvements to children's lives that help to make them healthy, educated and protected.