• Yolanda children still bear social, psychological scars

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    Super Typhoon Yolanda not only wiped out entire communities when it tore through Eastern Visayas a year ago today. It also wreaked havoc on the lives of children.

    The most powerful typhoon to ever hit land affected more than 16 million people who either lost their loved ones, homes or livelihood.

    Six million of the victims were children.

    Up to this day, many children in typhoon-devastated areas tremble at the sound of rain. While the government, through the Department of Social Welfare and Development, and some private organizations have launched programs to help typhoon survivors deal with the trauma, traces of psychological distress remain especially among the young population. Some children have slowly recovered from the tragic loss of parents, siblings, friends, homes and schools, but many others have yet to get over the tragedy, especially those who continue to live in extremely difficult and miserable conditions.

    Child experts agree that for many children, the process of recovery will be long.
    Without intervention, some may not recover at all.

    In a survey held by Save the Children, the world’s leading child’s rights organization, children admitted that without permanent homes, jobs for their parents and food for their family, their sufferings will continue.

    But the most resounding call from the young ones is for them to have strong homes that will shelter them from typhoons.

    “Our house still needs repair. My father needs work. Sometimes we do not have
    money or food,” Axel, 9, said.

    Many of the 162 children interviewed said they do not have adequate shelter and health services and lack access to clean and potable water. They worry that their parents may not be able to cope with poverty if they cannot find jobs.

    Some fear that they will no longer be safe should another strong typhoon hit.

    “I think my family won’t be safe anymore because if another typhoon like Yolanda would come and hit during the night, we would not survive,” another young respondent said.

    Several children believe that if another cyclone strikes, their families will not be safe even if they take shelter in evacuation centers.

    The children also said government assistance to them was slow. When asked to grade the response given to typhoon victims (on a scale of 1 to 5 stars among older children and smileys for those aged 6 to 9), they said that restoration of electricity took so long, there was no regular medical service in some areas, only some families were given livelihoods, and access to safe water supply was limited.

    Sadly, the children said the government and aid agencies are slowly forgetting them.

    They urged all agencies to focus on long term outcomes, such as improving the health, wealth and safety of communities, a report by Save the Children said.

    In its report titled “Are we there yet: Children’s views on Yolanda recovery,” the group noted that a year after the Yolanda disaster, children’s concerns were hardly accounted for and their needs and voices are not reflected in government data.

    “Although children have recognized the immediate actions taken by local government and the aid they received immediately after the disaster, children think that there is dwindling political will to fund long-term interventions like livelihoods support, greater access to healthcare and more places for Yolanda-affected children to pursue their education. In addition, children overwhelmingly say that recovery is a long way off and their expectations for life post Yolanda are high. Their message is clear- the job is far from finished,” the group noted.

    Save the Children warned that without continued support, “the poorest households will not be able to recover and risk falling back on negative coping strategies which will result in negative outcomes for children.”

    “Although children, families and communities are getting back on their feet, the needs on the ground are overwhelming. In some of the hardest hit areas, thousands of families continue to live in temporary shelters and are struggling to recover the livelihoods they once depended on,” the group said, noting that it will take more than a year for the situation in typhoon-stricken areas to normalize.

    “The scale of Yolanda was unprecedented. So many people’s lives were destroyed. Recovery is a big job. Many children reported hunger, sickness and fear during the initial aftermath, but they also predicted that jobs and social services would be key to ensuring their long term recovery. One year on, they are renewing that call,” Save the Children director of Yolanda Response Michel Rooijackers said.

    Imelda Cabiles, Child Rights Governance director, said a service delivery system for children is lacking in some typhoon areas. She called on government to strengthen the emergency preparedness of local government units in order to reduce damage to life and infrastructure the next time a strong typhoon strikes.

    Cabiles also stressed the need for government to allocate a budget to fund programs for children such as building of typhoon-resilient schools, day care centers, and the provision of better health services for the young population.

    At this stage in the reconstruction and rehabilitation process in Yolanda stricken areas, she said it is vital for families to have permanent houses and livelihoods so that children can again have normal lives.

    Rooijackers agreed that rehabilitation efforts should include programs to protect children from future disasters. To this end, he said their group is working on projects to provide livelihood and shelter to typhoon victims. The group is also calling on government to give priority to House Bill 5062 (Children’s Emergency Relief and Protection Act), filed by Tarlac Rep. Susan Yap on September 24, 2014 that seeks to protect and prioritize children in future emergencies. The measure was the result of collaboration between Save the Children and World Vision. The two groups worked with UNICEF in interviewing children throughout the Visayas to better understand their priorities, needs and concerns.

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