Vanuatu - Tens of thousands of children are in urgent need of assistance in Vanuatu after tropical Cyclone Pam ripped through the island.

“Around 60,000 children in Vanuatu are affected,” said Isabelle Austin, UNICEF Pacific Deputy Representative. “We are particularly concerned about their health, nutrition, safety, schooling and recovery.”

The category 5 storm hit late on Friday night (13 March) and continued into the early hours of Saturday morning, leaving children at particular risk.

“It felt like the world was coming to an end,” said UNICEF’s Alice Clements, one of UNICEF’s staff members who was in the capital, Port Vila, when the storm hit. “The winds were incredibly strong, ripping off roofs, destroying homes and damaging hospitals and schools. Countless homes have been torn apart and communities have been left in ruins.”

Access to safe drinking water and sanitation facilities has been disrupted in many places in Vanuatu, including in evacuation centres, leading to high risks of water-borne and vector–borne diseases. UNICEF is supporting the Government and working with partners to provide water containers, purification tablets, soap and temporary toilets or latrines.

UNICEF is also assessing the damage to infrastructure and key services. Early childhood centres as well as primary and secondary schools have been damaged by the cyclone or are being used as evacuation centres. At least 70,000 school-aged children are missing out on education as a result.

UNICEF is supporting children and families in evacuation centres with child protection, education and health services.

UNICEF is also coordinating a measles prevention campaign with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Vanuatu Ministry of Health - given low immunisation rates in the country and a recent measles outbreak in early March. UNICEF teams are restoring the essential cold store for vaccines using emergency fuel stocks, so that life-saving immunizations can be delivered to children.

UNICEF is also providing assistance to communities in Tuvalu and Solomon islands which have also been affected.