By Loren Pritchett, ChildFund staff writer
In recent months, more than 62 percent of U.S. states have experienced moderate to exceptional drought, and the children and families in our Oklahoma program areas are feeling the heat.
Crops like soy beans, wheat and corn have withered or died, producing low yields and forcing farmers to sell off livestock they can no longer afford to feed; while seasonal farm hands go without work. “Families who earn income in the summer months by helping with harvesting of hay and crops did not have jobs this summer,” says Linda Ehrhardt, ChildFund’s southern plains area manager.
With an already limited income, families in our Oklahoma program areas are bracing for what experts are predicting to be a nationwide surge in food prices. “Many of our families live on fixed incomes and receive assistance to help them feed their families,” Ehrhardt says. “The amount of that help does not increase every time the prices of groceries increase – leaving our families hungry by the end of the month.”
As ChildFund works with its local partners to monitor the situation and identify ways to support hard-hit families on the home front, we are reminded of the extreme hardships that millions of children and families in our programs in Africa have been experiencing since 2011. The severe drought that began last year in the Horn of Africa is mirrored in the Sahel region and continues to claim lives and destroy crops, livestock and families’ way of life.
of individuals experiencing food insecurity grew to more than 3.75 million. With the help of ChildFund, local NGOs and government agencies, families living in those areas received clean drinking water and food assistance to help feed their children. For many, this was the kind of hope and opportunity needed to rebuild their broken communities, but, today, dry conditions are back.
This year, with the short rains failing and the long rains coming late, once again crop yields have been low in eastern and western Africa. Food prices have spiked and families are in trouble.
This month, known as the lean season, Kenya will see food insecurity reach its peak. In Ethiopia, more than 3.76 million people will require food assistance until December. And in the Gambia, many children will be at risk for malnourishment or worse. Families who have planted crops are out of food and are depending on the small number of crops that will survive the drought. They will scramble for extra scraps and may even eat the seeds they had planned to plant next year. From now until October, food, milk and water will be hard to find.
Focusing our attention on the suffering in both eastern and western Africa, ChildFund will provide the necessary assistance to help families and children endure the drought season. It is paramount that we continue to provide access to clean water, sanitation and assistance with agricultural tools and activities but remedying food insecurity is even more pressing. ChildFund will provide food distributions, nutritional support and monitoring, as well as psychosocial support to help those experiencing the realities of drought.
For more information on how you can help children and families dealing with drought in our program areas, visit http://www.childfund.org/emergency_updates/ and help change a life.
Reporting from ChildFund Uganda
An outbreak of the Ebola virus, which has claimed the lives of at least 16 people in Uganda since late July, now appears to be under control, according to the World Health Organization.
Although the epicenter of the outbreak is in the Kibaale district, more than 230 suspected cases have been identified and are being monitored by the Ministry of Health. Although the bulk of these cases are in Kibaale and surrounding districts, a few are reported in three districts where ChildFund has operations: Kiboga, Amuria and Kampala. To date, there are no Ebola cases involving children and families in ChildFund’s program areas.
ChildFund Uganda, which has been monitoring the situation since the onset, mounted a response plan in Kiboga, which is closest to the epicenter. All other ChildFund programs are on alert, with preparedness plans in place, should the situation change.
Ebola hemorrhagic fever is a deadly disease caused by the Ebola virus first identified in Africa in the mid-1970s. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the incubation period for Ebola ranges from 2 to 21 days. The onset of illness is abrupt and is characterized by fever, headache, joint and muscle aches, sore throat, and weakness, followed by diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach pain. A rash, red eyes, hiccups and internal and external bleeding may be seen in some patients. Up to 90 percent of people who are infected with Ebola die from it, according to the National Institutes of Health.
ChildFund is collaborating with Uganda’s Ministry of Health in all of its preparedness and response activities that include
Since the first cases were reported, Uganda’s Ministry of Health has helped the Kiboga district set up a surveillance and response team to quickly identify and isolate cases of the disease. The Ministry of Health is also providing continuous medical education sessions on Ebola for the Kiboga hospital staff.
Although the outbreak appears to be now traced to its source and contained, ChildFund Uganda remains on alert.
Reporting by ChildFund Philippines
Over the course of January’s 31 days, we’re making a blog stop in each country where we serve children, thanks to the generous support of our sponsors and donors. Today we check in on recovery efforts in the Philippines following a deadly typhoon last December.
It’s been more than six weeks since Typhoon Washi (known locally as Sendong) struck the Philippines Dec. 16, 2011, bringing severe flooding that damaged or destroyed nearly 52,000 houses around the island of Mindanao. More than 1,200 people lost their lives in the storm, according to the Philippines government’s National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. An outbreak of leptospirosis (a severe bacterial infection) has claimed additional lives in the aftermath of the flooding.
During emergencies like these, ChildFund invests in psychosocial interventions for children through child-centered spaces (CCS). The intention is to mitigate the traumatic impact among children by providing normalizing and expressive activities like playing, singing, and simple arts and crafts activities.
ChildFund operated CCS activities at two storm-evacuation locations for the first two weeks following the typhoon. The response grew to six locations that are continuing to operate. More than 900 children have received support. In addition, ChildFund distributed 2,000 packs of emergency food as well as 2,000 nonfood kits (blanket, detergent, eating utensils).
Youth facilitators have been a virtual force multiplier for ChildFund’s staff operating the child-centered spaces. Twenty-six youth, already enrolled in ChildFund’s programs in the Philippines, volunteered their time over the Christmas break to lead activities for younger children.
Christine, 14, hails from a community not largely affected by Typhoon Washi. She had started enjoying the Christmas break when ChildFund’s local partner, Kaabag sa Kalumban Pinaagi sa Kabtangan sa Katilingban, came to her community inviting youth to volunteer. She signed up without a second thought. ChildFund staff oriented her and her peers as youth facilitators before taking them to the child-centered spaces.
Jam, a 13-year-old youth facilitator, says, “I wanted to spend time with the [displaced] kids, especially after what happened to them.”
Both Jam and Christine agree it was difficult at first. Many of the younger children misbehaved, but the teens stuck to their commitment of volunteering every day, even on Christmas Eve.
“We feel we’ve returned the smiles and laughs they lost, along with their homes and even loved ones, in the flood,” Christine says. “Some of them were in terror, when we first started CCS,” she adds. At the end of her volunteer time, Christine says she could see how much the children improved. “Their faces glow with sincere happiness and laughter now,” she says.
After spending their holidays as youth facilitators, Christine, Jam and their fellow volunteers returned to school in early January. To carry on CCS activities, ChildFund trained additional youth and parent volunteers who had survived the storm but were living in shelters. Training sessions began with participants processing their own survival experiences and continued with training in stress debriefing, gender-based violence concerns, games and use of other tools for child-centered spaces.
Now efforts in the Philippines are focused on the temporary or permanent relocation of the 36,000 people who remain in the 56 evacuation centers, most of which are public schools. Those who lost their homes are moving into new relocation camps. Children also are returning to school, thanks to a Department of Education mandate that allows displaced children to transfer schools without paperwork. Some adults have noted, however, that the camps are far from their former livelihoods.
ChildFund Philippines plans to conduct community-based child protection training sessions to ensure children’s needs are not overlooked during the recovery phase. In addition, ChildFund is helping families recover their livelihoods, which will be key factor in rebuilding their lives.
Reporting by Sachal Aneja, ChildFund India Information and Communication Officer
In Orissa, India, disastrous flooding earlier this month has affected more than 2 million people in 19 districts, claiming at least 22 lives. In the three affected districts where ChildFund operates, about 20,000 people were evacuated from low lying areas to safer places and provided with emergency food assistance with the help of the government.
The India National Office initiated immediate relief measures in the affected villages, concentrating on the two blocks most affected: Kanas block of Puri District and Mahakalapara block of Kendrapara District.
In this block, 783 children from 14 villages are enrolled in ChildFund programs. Thatched houses situated on low level lands have partially collapsed. People dwelling in these houses were provided emergency shelter in a school building and safer places on higher ground.
The cultivated agricultural lands in the area have been submerged in floodwaters, resulting in a high loss of Kharif crop (crops planted in the rainy season) in the area. Rice, millet, maize, soybeans, vegetables and other staples have been ruined.
Fish ponds are submerged, and many fishermen lost their fishing nets, which are key to their livelihoods. However, Kanas suffered no human casualties. The government provided some cooked food and drinking water for the first seven days following the flooding, and ChildFund is assessing ongoing needs.
ChildFund and its partners operate in 25 villages covering 965 enrolled children. Petechella, Baghuamedi and Lunagheri are most affected by the flooding; Sabarpara and Olopada are partially affected. Some 75 ChildFund families are directly impacted but all children in the villages have suffered physically and mentally in this devastating flood. The families have lost their crops, vegetables and daily livelihoods.
In both blocks, children especially are at risk of contracting disease from unsafe drinking water. Nutritional food is also in short supply.
In the short-term, ChildFund and its partners in the area will work with the government’s relief management authority and respective district administrations to ensure distribution of government relief services. ChildFund India will focus its interventions more on the sanitation issue and distribute bleaching powder, carbolic acid and lime for sanitation of water sources in the affected areas.
In addition, ChildFund is preparing to provide a one-month supply of supplementary food for children, pregnant and nursing mothers and elders in the project areas.
Looking to long-term needs, ChildFund will be distributing vegetable seeds to project families for the winter planting season and ensuring that school buildings and Early Childhood Centers are cleaned and prepared to receive students when schools reopen.
ChildFund will also be convening a consultative flood preparedness meeting with disaster management experts and community members. The goal is to help communities be better prepared and less vulnerable to future flooding.
Anne Lynam Goddard, ChildFund president and CEO, recalls her work in East Africa during a drought in the 1980s. Accompanying her husband on a trip to a refugee camp, she took her healthy infant son, who was a stark contrast to the Ethiopian children near starvation. It was an experience she will never forget.
by Anne Lynam Goddard, ChildFund President and CEO
Anne is in Kenya this week, where more than 3.5 million people need food aid as the worst drought in 60 years spreads across the Horn of Africa. One of the most affected areas is the Turkana region, where ChildFund is responding.
It’s a dusty and bumpy drive to Lokitaung in northern Kenya. You can taste the dust in the air. It’s early in the morning and already the heat is unbearable. Without water, nothing grows in this hostile environment.
We stop at a health tent. “Thirty-seven percent of children under 5 are malnourished here,” a local nurse tells me as she weighs a young girl. “Eight percent are severely malnourished. That’s a sharp increase compared to last year.”
In times of food shortage, children under 5 are the most vulnerable to malnutrition. Inadequate food intake in young children has lifelong growth and development implications. That’s why ChildFund is focusing its relief efforts on providing food to those 5 and younger, as well as pregnant and nursing mothers. We are using existing structures we have in place on the ground, including health facilities and Early Child Care and Development (ECCD) centers, to deliver food and water.
At the ECCD in Lokitaung, it’s just past 11 a.m., and the children are crying and hungry. They line up to receive a bowl of unimix – a nutrient-rich porridge. This is their first meal of the day. Since ChildFund started providing supplementary food, the number of children coming to the ECCD has soared. Mothers tell me they have carried their children for more than 5 kilometers, walking in the blistering heat to reach the ECCD center this morning.
Back at the health tent, Emuria, a 5-year-old boy, is having his mid-upper arm circumference measured. He looks frail. ChildFund’s health interventions include monitoring child growth to spot malnutrition at the early stages, providing vitamin A and iron supplements, deworming, vaccinating against measles and polio and also treating minor illnesses.
Mothers I speak to complain about eye irritations because of the dry and dusty conditions. Children are coughing. Today, we’re also testing mothers for HIV/AIDS. Luckily, all have tested negative.
In the afternoon, we visit the remote village of Kariburi. The road is even bumpier and dustier than the one we traveled this morning. Everywhere you look is the same landscape — dust fields. We drive through one dry riverbed after another. Turkana really is the epicenter of the drought in Kenya.
The situation in Kariburi is dire. Malnutrition levels far exceed emergency thresholds. In the local ECCD center, the young children are calm and quiet. They lack the energy to play. A combination of food insecurity, falling nutrition levels and poor access to health and water facilities has left children in need of urgent support. Immunization coverage is extremely low, which puts the under-five population at risk.
ChildFund is distributing relief food (maize, legumes and beans) to families today. Women line up and carry bags away on their heads. They have come far distances.
I’m happy to see that local women are involved in the relief distribution. The more you can involve the community, the better. ChildFund has also trucked in drinking water. A large crowd has gathered around the tap. Women have brought their containers to carry water back to their homes. ChildFund is also providing training on hygiene and sanitation practices. It’s in times of food shortage that people become weak and more vulnerable to disease outbreak.
Our help is needed most desperately. Thank you for your support.
Based in Ethiopia, Isam Ghanim, ChildFund’s executive vice president for Global Programs, answers questions about the cause and impact of the drought in East Africa. Read the full interview with Isam on ChildFund’s website.
What has led to this food crisis?
It’s a situation that we refer to as a slow-onset emergency. This was caused by two consecutive rainy seasons failing, and the short rainy seasons in Kenya and Ethiopia also failed. This has led to an increase in food prices. There is also high inflation in all of these countries. And there is violence in Somalia. A significant number of Somalians have moved to established camps in Ethiopia and Kenya.
Families entered this crisis with depleted assets and very poor physical conditions. For almost two years now, they have been affected by food shortages. They are suffering from nutritional stress. There is only so long you can cope before you fall into acute malnutrition. The environmental conditions and the health conditions take their toll.
What is the current situation?
More than 11.5 million people are affected. In the areas where ChildFund works, we estimate 660,000 people are affected, with 7,000 children facing life-threatening conditions. This is a very serious situation. Stress indicators are reaching the levels that you see in the middle of a famine. Without immediate intervention, children will die.
What impacts of the drought are we seeing?
Children and their parents are malnourished and at increased risk of disease due to poor hygiene because of the shortage of water. They are suffering from physical and emotional stress. People are moving from their homes.
The most grievously affected are women and children. They have less capability to move. For young children, there is a permanent impact on their health — stunting, wasting, mental development. If the mother is breastfeeding, she won’t have enough milk. When parents are under significant stress, the normal care and support for children will be minimized.
What is ChildFund doing to help?
ChildFund is addressing the immediate life-threatening conditions affecting children — providing food, water and basic health services, as well as supplemental feeding through early childhood care and development centers to ensure babies and young children will not fall into acute malnutrition.
In addition, ChildFund is working to help families stay in their own communities so that when the rains come in September they are there to plant crops and cultivate their farms. If they don’t plant, they will lose another harvest and experience another year without food.
There is also a need to address child protection issues. Parents are too weak to care for their children. They have no roof over their head. Providing support is critical so that families don’t deplete their resources as part of their coping mechanism.
by Martin Hayes, ChildFund Child Protection Specialist
Reporting from Yogyakarta, Indonesia
Relative calm has been restored to the towns and villages surrounding Mount Merapi. Evacuees are leaving internally displaced persons (IDP) camps and returning home. In many cases, parents are leaving their children with families and friends in the camps so that they can begin cleaning their homes and clearing the debris.
I traveled to two of the villages about 4 kilometers (2 miles) south of the volcano. The roads were covered with an inch of gray powdery ash. In some spots, rain water has combined with the ash to solidify like concrete. Most village residents are farmers. They depend on the rice and vegetables that they grow. The hardened ash has caused many of the crops to die. For now these farmers are living on handouts delivered to the village by volunteers.
I spoke with a few villagers who have returned home. One young mother explained to me, “We don’t have seeds for next season…we’re worried about what we’ll do.” In this part of Indonesia, farmers plant regularly and are able to harvest every few months. They sell part of their harvest and consume the rest. Their subsistence is a delicate balance contingent on the cyclical harvests.
Despite the crop problem, residents are happy to be home. I spoke with a few young children about their experiences over the past few weeks. One 10-year-old girl named Wanyu explained the events immediately after the volcanic eruption. “I felt so scared… I cried. All the lights went out. We looked at the mountain and we saw red lights coming from the top.”
Wanyu fled with her parents to a shelter in the nearest town about 5 kilometers (3 miles) away. “I didn’t like the shelter because it was too hot.” But she explained that she did like meeting new children living at the shelter and learning new traditional games with them. Nonetheless, she’s glad to be back home and eager to return to her fourth-grade classroom. However, the school has not reopened. The students are helping some of the teachers who have returned to clean the school.
Wanyu’s mother is also happy to be home. However, she is noticeably anxious. “I’m worried about Merapi erupting again. I’m also worried about our future as all our vegetables have died.”
by Julien Anseau, ChildFund Asia Regional Communications Manager
Reporting from the field
Each of the 963 ChildFund-sponsored children in Magelang and Boyolali districts have been found staying in evacuation camps or with relatives. All are in good health, although some are complaining of eye irritation caused from ash and sand rain.
“We worked with our local partners and an experienced team of volunteers to locate the children,” says Kuntum, a ChildFund staff member. “We visited camps in Magelang and Boyolali to find them. We spoke to village leaders, family members and neighbors to find out if they knew where the children were staying. Phone connection has been limited in remote areas following the first eruption so we visited every camp on a daily basis.”
Approximately 280,000 people have been forced to leave their homes for temporary evacuation shelters, following Mount Merapi’s most violent eruption in 140 years. Conditions in most of the camps are cramped with poor sanitary conditions.
In emergency situations, children need a safe space in which to play and reestablish a sense of normalcy. ChildFund is opening child-centered spaces to provide educational and recreational activities for children.
“Children take part in drawing, singing, dancing, playing and storytelling, which allow emotional expression,” says Susana, a ChildFund staff member in Indonesia. In our child-centered space in Gunungpring camp we are exhibiting children’s drawings. Children are happy about this, and we hope it helps restore their confidence.”
Tegar, 10 years old, says, “I drew a picture of a volcano because I still remember what happened. My house was destroyed. I am very afraid.”
Susana explains that the vast majority of children initially drew volcanoes, but in more recent days, they are drawing the crater, without the volcanic eruption. “Some of the girls are drawing flowers. This is an important sign in post-trauma healing. Child-centered spaces help in this respect.”
In Deyangan camp, 9-year-old Arif says he likes the child-centered space. “For some time I can forget about what has happened. But when I go back to my parents sitting there in the camp, I only think about the eruption. I am scared at night.”
Although children may be living in evacuee camps, they still have a right to education, says Hurmiyati, a teacher in one of ChildFund’s child-centered spaces. “They will sit a national examination in May next year; they can’t fall behind.”
ChildFund is partnering with psychologists who, by interacting with children in the child-centered spaces, can better understand the trauma children are going through. Children have told ChildFund staff that they are afraid because they have had to leave their village and make new friends.
In Maguwo camp, the largest camp where more than 20,000 people have taken refuge, the popular child-centered space is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. It is well stocked with books and toys. Children come to spend some time to forget about their painful experience, under the supervision of trained volunteers.
ChildFund is providing age-appropriate activities for younger children, but there is a need for materials for older children. Sugeng, a volunteer, says, “There is nothing for teenagers to do in the camp. They are bored and don’t know how long they are going to be here.”
Sugeng is also concerned that the children have a balanced diet. Children eat rice or noodles every day. They need fruit and vegetables. So ChildFund staff and volunteers are involving children in the activity of making a fruit salad, and then partaking.
Overcrowding is a problem in the child-centered spaces. In Gunungpring, more than 100 children are attending activities during the course of the day, but the room is too small to accommodate everyone. More space is needed.
With your support, ChildFund will be able to open additional child-centered spaces for the children whose families have fled the volcano. Thank you for considering a donation to the ChildAlert Emergency Fund to help improve conditions for children in Indonesia.
by Julien Anseau, ChildFund Asia Regional Communications Manager
Reporting from the field
Continued eruptions of the Mt. Merapi volcano in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, during the last two weeks has forced 280,000 people into temporary shelters at schools, village halls and makeshift camps. Indonesia’s president has declared the situation a national disaster.
Camps are overcrowded, with a reported combined capacity of only 40,000.
Yet in the districts of Magelang and Boyolali alone, where ChildFund is focusing its emergency response efforts, displaced persons total more than 150,000.
Children and parents have told ChildFund staff that sanitary conditions in the camps are poor. ChildFund is distributing some 1,250 hygiene kits (soap, shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrushes and diapers) to evacuated families staying in shelters. We are also providing food for breastfeeding mothers as well as food, clothing, mattresses and blankets.
Three-year-old David, one of ChildFund’s sponsored children, is staying in Deyangan camp in the Magelang district with his family. His mother, Wanti, says that her family’s village is located only 5 km (3.1 miles) from the mountain’s peak. “We want to go home, but we don’t know when that will be. I don’t know what state our house will be in when we return. My husband sometimes ventures up Merapi’s slopes to check on our cattle and goats, but I tell him it’s probably best not to check on the house or he will cry.”
People living on Merapi’s slopes depend on cattle for their livelihoods. Thus, many evacuees, stressed over the safety of their livestock, are entering the restricted zone to check on their cattle, goats, ducks and chickens. In an effort to prevent residents from returning to their homes to feed livestock, volunteers and military personnel have evacuated animals within a 20 kilometer radius of Merapi’s peak.
“We want our normal life back,” Wanti says. “But I am worried about the future. Our paddy fields have been left unattended. Our crops are ruined.”
Children also are in shock and confused. The loss of educational materials and toys, separation from home and play areas and a general lack of security is traumatic. Schools in affected areas remain closed and a lack of activities for children in the camps is causing children to be restless, anxious and noncommunicative.
As parents worry about their livelihood and the potential loss of property and livestock, they are often unable to adequately provide the care and attention needed by children.
ChildFund is establishing child-centered spaces where children can engage in normalizing activities such as drawing, singing, dancing and storytelling to enable emotional expression.
“Child-centered spaces provide protection and psychosocial support for children who have been affected by emergencies. They also provide a safe, physical space for children to gather in an unstable environment,” says Sharon Thangadurai, ChildFund national director in Indonesia.
Yuni, 12, is staying at Deyangan camp in Magelang. “I have to help my mom with washing clothes and taking care of my younger brother,” she says. She is happy to have the opportunity to play with other children at the child-centered space. “I enjoy it here. It helps me to be strong because I want to be strong for my mom.”
Additional child-centered spaces are urgently needed. To help ChildFund respond to the Mt. Merapi disaster, please consider a donation to the ChildAlert Emergency Fund.