INDEPENDENT NEWS

Kiwi's protecting kids in earthquake zone

Published: Tue 25 Oct 2005 04:32 PM
New Zealanders work in child protection in earthquake devastated region

Stephen Hooper
New Zealander Stephen Hooper has just returned from the devastated city of Ballakot to Mansehra in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, where World Vision has a base. Hooper, who is an experienced conflict mediator says, "I will never forget the first sights of the city – an entire hill side where all of the houses were flattened, maybe as many as two to three thousand homes flat to the ground. Despite working in a number of war zones, I have never seen anything like this."
He said the unofficial figures for the numbers dead, including children, are "quite horrific".
"In a town of 100,000 people, the community is telling us that 80% of the population have died in the earthquake. These figures alone are significantly different from the official figures."
Hooper has been helping spearhead Child Protection efforts in the devastated region, and he says the children are at severe risk.
"Those children who remain are dazed; many are injured. It is very evident that we will need to move quickly if we are to prevent further deaths from the cold."

Heather MacLeod
World Vision is also concerned about the risk to the children of human trafficking and under the direction of another New Zealander, Heather MacLeod, is leading rapid assessments and workshops for the United Nations and other NGOs in the region.
Ms MacLeod says in disasters, the combination of stress, chaos, and displacement leave some children in a vulnerable state. Identifying child abuse is not always easy, but there are ways to discern it, even in a culture that is difficult to navigate.
"Children often have some wonderful ideas on how to protect themselves," says Ms MacLeod who is World Vision's International Child Protection Director. "In order to help protect them we need to listen."
The listening is often done in World Vision-designed rapid assessments to quickly find out how many children are affected. Assessors ask if there is adequate food, water, and shelter, if medical care is available, if children are unaccompanied or separated from their families and if there are imminent threats.
ENDS

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