By Natacha Ikoli
NEW YORK, USA, 4 November 2008 - In early May of this year, hundreds of thousands of people in south-western Myanmar's Irrawaddy Delta were forced from their homes by Cyclone Nargis. Today, six months on, emergency relief efforts are on track, but more support is needed to ensure long-term recovery for cyclone-affected children and their families.
About 140,000 people perished as a result of the devastating cyclone and subsequent flooding, which destroyed schools and health centres, contaminated water supplies and left hundreds of young children separated from their parents.
In all, more than 2 million people were affected, many of them losing their homes, their livelihoods and all of their belongings.
At first, mobilizing the relief effort in the stricken Irrawaddy Delta was difficult due to the lack of access to remote areas and the delta's badly damaged infrastructure. But as of today, a wide range of activities have been implemented in health, education and sanitation.
Overall, the biggest achievement has been the coordinated effort by the government, UNICEF and other relief agencies, which has facilitated emergency relief to a large number of families and communities.
For example, UNICEF has provided pumps to help drain and clean ponds and wells that are the only sources of water for many villages in Irrawaddy. To date, the organization has supported rehabilitation of over 530 ponds and 246 hand-dug wells that were contaminated when the cyclone passed through the delta.
UNICEF has also helped repair 134 damaged health facilities and distributed equipment and furniture to basic health centres in all affected townships.
And to assist children left homeless and vulnerable by the cyclone disaster, UNICEF and its partners have established 112 child-friendly spaces providing psycho-social activities. Through these activities, 19,000 children are learning how to enjoy life again, play with others and express their feelings through drawing, singing and other outlets.
'Reconstruction activity can start'
But according to UNICEF Representative in Myanmar Ramesh Shrestha, "the most important achievement was perhaps the opening of the new school year as scheduled on the 2nd of June.
That achievement, he said, "required mobilizing the support of various sectors in repairing damaged classrooms, establishing temporary schools, distribution of learning material, and re-deploying teachers, among many other factors."
UNICEF and its partners are now focusing on reconstruction of schools and health centres, as well as rehabilitation of water supply systems. "Now that the relief work is more stable, the recovery and reconstruction activity can start," said Mr. Shrestha.