Child survivors of tsunami face new risks: UNICEF
One million child survivors of Asia's devastating tsunami face major risks in the coming weeks from malnutrition, disease and human traffickers, the United Nations children's fund UNICEF warned on Wednesday.
"The real challenges to children have not retreated with the tidal waves," UNICEF's East Asia director Anupama Rao Singh told reporters in the Thai capital, where the UN's regional relief efforts are being coordinated.
"What we are particularly concerned about is the likely spread of epidemics water borne diseases, malaria and other diseases," she said, adding increased malnutrition caused by lack of food and water meant these children were now extremely vulnerable to illness.
"If a child is malnourished then threats to that child's life increase 100-fold," she said.
Children below the age of five were particularly at risk and an immediate challenge would be to rebuild many health centres destroyed by the tsunami, which UNICEF estimates affected about one million children, Singh said.
Other immediate concerns were preventing child traffickers from exploiting the disaster and caring for children separated from their families, she said.
"Separated children who have lost one or more parents, their numbers are increasing day by day and we expect this to be a major issue."
Singh said the agency was aware of reports that children had been trafficked out of Aceh, Indonesia and that joint efforts with regional governments and aid agencies to trace, register and re-unify separated children were underway, but needed to be stepped up.
She also said authorities in Indonesia had ordered a short-term ban on the movement of children out of Aceh and the country to prevent human traffickers exploiting the situation.
UNICEF estimates it will take at least six months to repair or rebuild tsunami damaged schools and health centres and document all separated children, but said ensuring counselling and returning them to schools could take years.
Officials have said children and the elderly were worst hit by the disaster because in many cases they could not flee without help.
Thailand said Wednesday that it had some 300 children in emergency shelters along its tsunami battered coast.
"We are meeting today to find measures to help these orphans affected by the disaster," Wallop Ploythapthim, permanent secretary of Thailand's Social Development and Human Security Ministry told AFP.
He said at least 290 children had lost one parent while another 22 had lost both when the tsunami stuck six of Thailand's southern provinces 10 days ago.