A series of tropical storms that have recently battered the Philippines continue, just yesterday causing additional flooding and mudslides. Earlier this week I returned from a trip to the country, seeing first-hand some of the extensive damage and visiting with victims and relief workers.
The amount of rain that poured down in just a few hours was equal to what the region normally gets in a month. The last storm to hit with such force was more than forty years ago. The aftermath has resulted in loss of life, destruction and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of children and families to emergency shelters.
The devastation was clear in the village of Santa Cruz village, a low-lying area near Manila. It had experienced floodwaters that neared four feet. Homes and businesses were destroyed, cars overturned, and many families forced to evacuate to nearby shelters on higher ground.
A school I visited there was a shelter for more than 700 people, 300 of them children. There, I met a mother who was staying in a classroom with her family and five other families. Crying, she explained the difficulty since the storms. Her husband is sick and because of the flooding he doesn't have work, leaving the family with no money for medicines. Their home is now only accessible by boat or by wading in knee-high water. Her older children are guarding the house and their belongings, while the little ones, including the youngest, just 10 months old, remain with her at the shelter.
UNICEF, along with other United Nations agencies, is helping in the aftermath. Working together with the government and relief organizations, UNICEF is providing family kits containing necessities such as water cans, blankets, mosquito nets and sleeping mats for the evacuees. We are helping restore safe water supplies, delivering medicines to help prevent disease and working to register and protect children who have been separated from, or have lost, their parents.
Bringing normalcy back into children's lives is a critical element in post-disaster recovery. While at the school, we gathered with the children and teachers, to distribute new books so learning and interaction with other students could continue. This is so important to children and helps to ease the trauma associated with the disaster.
Also this week the United Nations issued a flash appeal for $74 million in international assistance to help rebuild in the aftermath. It will take time to restore the roads, schools, water supplies and houses that now sit in ruins. That was a reality clearly understood in the meetings we had with President Arroyo, other government officials and relief workers who will lead those efforts in the months ahead.
Our hearts go out to those who continue to suffer through the devastating results of these storms. This reinforces the urgent need for the international community to join together in the call for action in helping the people of the Philippines not only cope during this tragedy but to rebuild during the aftermath.
Ann Veneman is the Executive Director of UNICEF. To learn more about UNICEF, relief efforts in the Philippines and how to help, go to www.unicef.org.