27 December 2011As the death toll in the Philippines from the impact of tropical storm Washi passes 1,100, the United Nations continues to both rush aid to storm-affected areas and stress the need to focus renewed attention on the thousands of children hit by the disaster. With tens of thousand of homeless villagers seeking shelter in public buildings, including schools, the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) has increased its calls for the safe and uninterrupted access to learning for children afflicted by the storm. “In times of emergency, communities are likely to prioritize needs related to people’s immediate survival and will not have the resources to address the basic need of affected school children and teachers,” said Margareta Wahlström, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Disaster Risk Reduction. “For this reason, forward planning to preserve a child’s right to education is one of the most valuable actions a government can take, before disasters strike,” Ms. Wahlström added, further noting that education was critical to children’s long-term opportunities and must not be interrupted. The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has also pledged to provide children with continued access to safe learning environments in the storm-ravaged cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan on the island of Mindanao, which were particularly affected by flash floods and landslides as a result of Washi.In addition, the UN’s newly revised humanitarian action plan for Mindanao will see $354,000 directed toward helping devastated communities re-establish educational facilities and replace damaged or lost learning materials. In the early hours of 17 December, the Cagayan, Agus and Madulong rivers swelled under the force of Washi, known locally as Sendong, and overflowed their banks, drowning many people in their sleep. According to figures released yesterday by the Philippine Government, more than 1,100 people are dead and 39,437 homes have been damaged or destroyed. Over 60,000 people are taking shelter in 53 evacuation centres and another 309,474 people are staying with relatives or in makeshift structures. The figures are expected to rise as more information becomes available.