Aid Agencies Warn of Threats to Myanmar's Children As the death toll from the cyclone in Myanmar continues to climb, international aid agencies warn of new dangers for the most vulnerable survivors: children. They make up about a third of survivors, and many are orphaned or lost and surrounded by strangers in crowded refugee camps.
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Aid Agencies Warn of Threats to Myanmar's Children

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Aid Agencies Warn of Threats to Myanmar's Children

Aid Agencies Warn of Threats to Myanmar's Children

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One of the aid agencies that's managing to work in Myanmar is expressing concern about thousands of young people. The group is Save the Children, and its name might as well be its message after Myanmar's cyclone.

We've reached David Wightwick of Save the Children. He's working with children whose families cannot be found. And Mr. Wightwick, why are those children especially vulnerable?

Mr. DAVID WIGHTWICK (Save the Children, Myanmar): Well, part of the reason is the situation prior to the cyclone was that there were a large number of malnourished children. Thirty percent of the children in Myanmar were malnourished, and obviously after a storm and the impact such as this one had, a lot more people are made seriously vulnerable.

INSKEEP: So you have a lot of people who are in no position to go a few weeks with a very poor diet, obviously.

Mr. WIGHTWICK: That's right. I think people are finding it exceptionally difficult to cope.

INSKEEP: And if you have children whose families perhaps did not survive the storm or people have been washed into different locations, is anyone looking after children in that situation?

Mr. WIGHTWICK: Well, Save the Children are establishing safe spaces for children in displaced camps. At the moment, we're planning on about 180, and we have the initial ones set up.

One of the crucial issues is to establish what we do with separated infants. These children need to be breast fed. If their mothers are not around, we will have to have to find substitute wet nurses. We're very reluctant, and most agencies are reluctant, to recommend or distribute infant formula because there are many risks involved with the unsafe water conditions around here of using infant formula. So we have to find some solution very rapidly.

INSKEEP: Now, a few days ago we did have a chance to speak with another representative of your organization, Save the Children, in Myanmar, who said the private sector had come up with significant amounts of emergency supplies to be distributed to tens of thousands, perhaps even 100,000 people. The fear was whether that was going to be enough. Has it turned out to be enough?

Mr. WIGHTWICK: Well, I don't think at the moment there are sufficient supplies in country to meet the need, and that's across the board, whether that's the private sector or whether that's the NGOs and the different U.N. agencies working here. There really is an urgent need to get more supplies into the country by whatever means we can.

INSKEEP: Is there enough food?

Mr. WIGHTWICK: It is certain that there is not enough food in the affected areas. The north of the country was already experiencing some food shortages, and of course right now it's the middle of the hungry season in Myanmar, anyway.

INSKEEP: I'd like to explain something there for those of us who are accustomed to having as many meals as we'd like to have. Did you just say the middle of the hungry season?

Mr. WIGHTWICK: That is correct. There is a planting season while people wait for those crops to grow. They are living off the ends of their supplies from the previous harvest, and for Myanmar the hungry season is now.

INSKEEP: It sounds like this disaster could not have come at a worse time.

Mr. WIGHTWICK: I think that's absolutely correct.

INSKEEP: Do you have indications that large numbers of people have in fact died since the cyclone, after the cyclone?

Mr. WIGHTWICK: That is very difficult to say with any degree of accuracy. I think it is almost certain that large numbers of people are at significant risk. I'm standing here in Yangon at the moment, and it is absolutely pouring with rain. There is thunder and lightning outside, and there are thousands of people in the delta area with very little or no shelter.

INSKEEP: David Wightwick is an emergency coordinator with Save the Children. He's in Yangon, Myanmar. Thank you very much.

Mr. WIGHTWICK: Thank you.

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