Floods in the Solomons affect the country's most vulnerable
UNICEF says the devastating floods in Solomon Islands earlier this year have taken the worst toll on the country's most vulnerable.
The United Nation's children's agency, UNICEF, says the devastating floods in Solomon Islands earlier this year have taken the worst toll on the country's most vulnerable.
Its deputy executive director for external affairs, Yoka Brandt, has just completed a tour of the Pacific, which included visiting communities in Solomon Islands displaced by the flooding.
Ms Brandt spoke to Amelia Langford about her visit and how the country is faring following April's flooding.
YOKA BRANDT: It's been a very very good trip for me because most of my own experience is in Africa where I have worked and lived for about 15 years and I have also travelled quite extensively in Asia but this is actually my first visit to the Pacific and I think it is really important to actually be there and see what the challenges are for children. The context is very different from what I have seen before and also to better understand how UNICEF should tailor its programmes to these challenges for children and where we are doing well and where we need to improve and where we could adjust a little bit and so it's been really really useful.
AMELIA LANGFORD: So in Solomon Islands obviously there have been the devastating floods relatively recently. How is the country recovering from that?
YB: Obviously, on the global scale of things one sometimes tends to forget that these kind of emergencies are also happening because it is all over the news [with] Syria and Iraq and these are very serious situations but these kind of smaller-scale emergencies obviously still have impact on the people living there. Now, fortunately enough we have been able to visit some of the communities that have been displaced by the floods and that have been able to come back to their places of residence and can start picking up their lives again. There is also quite a big group still displaced so those people basically have no place to go so they are talking to the government now on how they can be resettled. So I think what you are seeing is that in a situation like this in the Solomon Islands these kind of floods usually hit the most vulnerable people and so the people that are affected now are usually among the groups that already suffer from bad nutrition, low immunisation rates, and all these kinds of things. So it is basically an emergency on top of people that already have difficulties coping with their normal circumstances.
AL: And I would imagine that a lot of the displaced or homeless people - there would be families and that would include children. What is happening there to provide for the children? Are they missing out on their schooling? Is UNICEF involved in any of that?
YB: Yeah, what we did, especially in the beginning, when a lot of people were displaced - we offered child-friendly spaces so basically a big tent that children come to and they are offered an opportunity to play and forget about the situation they are in and we also provide education packages. Now it is important to help children go back to their normal schooling but specifically in situations of emergencies or humanitarian, whether they are man-made or natural disasters, you know, schooling or giving children a space to play is so important because it gives children a sense of normalcy so they forget a little bit about the difficult situation they are in and they go through a normal routine. It's incredibly important to deal with the more psychosocial effects of disasters.
AL: Okay. Just in terms of when you went to the Solomons, I know you haven't been there before but were you shocked by the way it was looking [in the aftermath of the flooding]?
YB:Well, I wasn't shocked by the way it was looking because it looked very pretty I think. It is a very beautiful place. But I must say some of the indicators for children were much worse than I would have expected so there is a fairly high level of malnutrition. About 33 percent of the children are actually stunted, which is the result of chronic undernutrition so that is what you get when children haven't been fed enough or adequate food for quite a long time and so they get stunted. Their growth is not what it is supposed to be and it also affects their cognitive capacities. I was also quite shocked by the level of violence including against children and things like, for instance, low immunisation rates. It's only 75 percent in the Solomons and I think I would have expected those indicators to be a little bit better so that's some of the challenges that we need to work on to improve lives for these kids.
AL: So, putting aside the flooding for one moment there are clearly underlying issues for children anyway. So the flooding would have made it that much worse?
YB: Yes, that is exactly it.
AL: If you were to summarise what UNICEF is doing in Solomon Islands, what would you say?
YB: Well, we have already talked about the response to the flood-affected communities. What we do is immunisation as well, as I said immunisation rates are very very low, we work on providing water and sanitation to schools, specifically, and also together both with the New Zealand and the Government, we have worked on a project to provide solar power for some of the schools and I have visited that and it is quite interesting how transformational such a project is - not just for the children but also for the communities around them...so it is quite an interesting and innovative project.
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