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Children are the worst affected by any natural disaster. They are not equipped to rebuild their lives after losing their parents, friends, their homes, books, schools and other cherished belongings. This is worsened by a faction of predators who seek to convert them into child labourers and abuse or harm them in different ways. The recent Assam and Bihar floods have rendered children exposed to a variety of risks. Of the people struck by the disaster, seven hundred thousand are children. The risks that these children will be exposed to must be recognised so that civil society, government bodies and concerned individuals can unite to mitigate them through Assam floods relief.

1. Waterborne diseases
Diseases like cholera, dysentery, and a host of viruses can easily spread in contaminated, dirty water. The monsoons are far from over, and children in relief camps need constant medical supervision and support to keep them safe, warm and dry.

2. Malnutrition
Ready access to meals, clean water, and milk are essential for growing children, and they can easily get nutrient deficient. Thanks to those who donate to NGO fundraising, rations are being shippedand they ensure a bare minimum survival and prevent starvation. However, long term lack of a complete diet rich in protein, fat, carbohydrates and essential minerals can cause malnutrition in children.

3. Diarrhoea, a fatal disease
Poor hygienic conditions can trigger an outbreak of diarrhoea at relief camps and other sites where these children are taking shelter. This can in turn cause malnutrition, compromising children’s immune systems, making them more vulnerable to disease and also contributing to stunting.

4. Children dropping out of school
Schools have been damaged, and children have lost their books and uniforms. There is a high likelihood that without a sustained intervention by government bodies and NGOs, children may not be able to continue with formal schooling and dropout.

5. Damage to livelihoods
The largely agrarian region has been devastated by the damage to 99,416 hectares of standing crops that were due for harvest. Others, who keep livestock will also be affected. Many will be tempted to sell their children into labour, or employ them in small menial work even if they are able to achieve some semblance of their former lives. It is critical to donate money during this time of need to ensure that these people don’t fall into destitution and make such reckless decisions.

6. Preying eyes of child abusers and traffickers
Child abuse and trafficking can run rampant at relief sites without proper security. Predators can harm, steal, or offer lucrative amounts of money to parents to buy their children. Parents, driven to desperation after losing their livelihood and homes, may be tempted to yield.

7. Psychological stress
The mind of a child isn’t strong enough to deal with images and memories of devastation, loss of life, homes and schools. The trauma of a near-death experience can add to this, causing immense psychological distress to children.

8. Loss of recreation
The aforementioned psychological impact of the trauma that the floods cause is worsened by lack of recreation. Children require safe, happy recreational areas in order to mentally grow and develop. Instead, they are forced to become sheltered survivors.

9. Injuries
From small scratches that can cause infections like tetanus to severe muscle and even skeletal damage, surviving a flood can cause immense physical damage to vulnerable children. These need to be rapidly treated to prevent long-term health damage.

10. Parental neglect
As parents seek to try to salvage their belongings and rescue as many loved ones as possible, they may unknowingly neglect their children. This can lead to them overlooking their safety. Children can find themselves trapped in harmful situations like drug abuse, which the parents and guardians are too busy to notice.

For expecting and new mothers, there is the additional risk of compromising the health of their infants. Maternal health influences child health – clearly, India cannot afford to thousands of children suffer due to a calamity. Bal Raksha Bharat, a leading force in rescue and rehabilitation of communities during disasters is rapidly scaling up their emergency response, helping affected families achieve recovery to fight child mortality, and also rebuild their lives. The NGO’s employees, partners and volunteers are trained to execute an Emergency Preparedness and Response Plan (ERP), and also runs child-centred and community-based preparedness programmes across vulnerable communities. Survivor children can continue with their schooling after disasters, and Child-friendly spaces are created for children’s psychological needs and undertake nutrition and health assessments.

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