Children 'most vulnerable' in emergencies

(AP)A girl walks through the destroyed Our Lady of the Holy Rosemary church as mass is delivered at a neighboring construction site, Sunday, November 17, 2013 in Palo, Philippines

Violence against women and children increases during and in the aftermath of emergencies, says development agency World Vision.

There are concerns for their safety in the Philippines, where Typhoon Haiyan has caused a catastrophic amount of damage across the island group, with official reports of over 3,600 fatalities.

An assessment by Save the Children estimates that nearly four million children are in the areas devastated by the storm and urgently need food, water, shelter and medicine.

Governments, UN agencies and policy leaders gathered in London last week for a conference looking at the prevention of violence in emergencies.

The head of policy and programmes for World Vision, David Thomson, who spoke at the conference, said: "Sadly, in emergencies children are at their most vulnerable. Studies show violence increases and it is often women and girls who suffer the most."

However, projects and teams working for their protection are consistently underfunded during emergency responses, receiving on average less than a third of the capital they need.

In light of this, Thomson urged the prevention of violence to be "at the front of everybody's minds".

World Vision argues that there needs to be a focus on strengthening "survivor-led accountability", with Thomson stressing that it is an important step in to make sure those who need help are getting it.

"Often victims are too afraid to report the violence, rooted in structural and uneven power dynamics, or do not know how to do so. This is why awareness of this issue, and a focus on tackling it from the outset, is so key," he says.

Governments and organisations represented at the conference were encouraged to commit to change practices and agree on new principles to prevent violence.

"As we have been reminded so poignantly, disasters occur far too often in the world today. And we know that focusing on the root causes of this violence can and will prevent the abuse of children, especially at times like these. a call to action," finished Thomson.

World Vision are not alone in their desire to protect the most vulnerable. Viva is a UK-based international charity that aims to inspire lasting change in the lives of children around the world through the power of collective action, with a vision to "see children safe, well and fulfilling their God-given potential". They work to support those at risk in the aftermath of tragedies such as Haiyan.

PCMN, Viva's partner network in the Philippines led by Pastor Merlyn Medal, is at the heart of the relief effort in Samar province. Before the disaster struck, the local network was working with abused children, giving family dynamics training and developing foster family networks.

It is now working in several key ways in order to best meet the needs of the millions of children who have been affected by the super storm in the region.

Efforts are being co-ordinated between Viva's children's ministry network in northern Samar and a government-led committee which includes members of Unicef and other national and international organisations.

The Filipino government has commissioned a rapid assessment on the state of the affected children and has asked the network to find child friendly spaces with the damaged region, a search that is proving difficult given the extensive damage to infrastructure. The charity is also working with volunteers from churches to deliver trauma counselling and psycho-social support for affected children through the establishment of a programmed called Operation Safe.

Justine Demmer, Viva's Network Consultant for the Philippines, said: "There are many tears, and the shock is still strong, but the people of God are finding the strength and doing what's needed."