Unicef estimates that 1.7 million children are among the 4.4 million people in the Philippines displaced by the disaster and said it was receiving reports of missing and separated children in Tacloban and Ormoc. The death toll now stands at more than 4,000.
„Children who are alone are particularly vulnerable to a range of risks including potential exploitation, abuse and even trafficking. These were pre-existing issues in the Philippines including in Tacloban and the typhoon-affected areas,“ said Pernille Ironside, Unicef’s child protectionspecialist.
The agency is working on programmes to identify children and reunify families.
It has also worked with Save the Children to set up centres designed to establish a daily routine for children, give them somewhere safe to play and offer them access to counselling.
„Evidence suggests that the faster children get back into school and back into normal and regular activities, the faster they will be able to recover,“ said David Bloomer, Save the Children’s regional adviser on child protection.
He said that women and children were typically more vulnerable in such situations, with much disaster management planning failing to take their needs into account.
Bloomer added that the first priority was creating safe spaces, not least because of the physical safety hazards facing children among the debris.
Oxfam said hundreds of schools had been destroyed. Others were being used as evacuation centres, said Bloomer, making it important to find alternative spaces.
Dr Natasha Reyes, emergency co-ordinator for Médecins sans Frontières, said the organisation was seeing children with gastrointestinal infections and diarrhoea, almost certainly from drinking dirty water.
The organisation is providing maternal and obstetric services, while Action Against Hunger said it was setting up tents in Tacloban where women could breastfeed infants and receive medical and psychological support.
A new study by US economists suggests that typhoons in the Philippines can lead to dramatic spikes in the mortality rate for infant girls – but not boys – up to two years after the disaster.
The research by Solomon Hsiang at the University of California, Berkeley, and Jesse Anttila-Hughes of the University of San Franciscoexamined the impact of the storms over 25 years.
On average, officials in the Philippines record around 740 deaths each year due to typhoon exposure. But the analysis suggests that post-typhoon mortality among baby girls is far higher, with an average of 11,261 deaths. Because the country suffers so many of the storms – on average 20 a year – these deaths could account for roughly 13% of overall infant mortality, the authors believe.
The researchers say it seems unlikely that families intentionally allow the girls to die: „It is more plausible that parents believe their newborn can cope with higher-than-average levels of neglect … Unfortunately, for a small number of unlucky families, the assumption proves false,“ they write.
After a particularly strong storm, incomes can decrease by as much as 15% year-on-year. Households reduce spending on medicine and education by about 25% and high-nutrient foods such as meat and eggs by about 30%, according to the study.
Infant girls are at much greater risk if they have older sisters or particularly brothers, suggesting competition for resources among siblings may play a role, they added.