UNICEF is rushing relief assistance to the countries hardest hit by massive ocean flooding following Sunday’s earthquake, working to meet the urgent needs of hundreds of thousands of people who survived the tsunamis but now need shelter, water, medical supplies and other urgent assistance.
With millions of people affected in India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, the Maldives, and other countries, UNICEF and other UN agencies have been working with governments to assess pressing priorities and provide immediate assistance. Sri Lanka and Indonesia are likely to have the greatest need for humanitarian support, UNICEF said.
“Hundreds of thousands of people fought to survive the tsunamis on Sunday. Now we need to help them survive the aftermath,” said UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy. “We’re concerned about providing safe water, which is urgent in all these countries, and about preventing the spread of disease. For children, the next few days will be the most critical.”
In Sri Lanka, UNICEF has already responded to government request for shelter supplies, providing more than 30,000 blankets and sleeping mats as well as t-shirts and other articles of clothing from local emergency stocks. A relief flight from Copenhagen will take off to Colombo on Tuesday carrying 45 tonnes of supplies. It will be carrying oral rehydration salts for sick children, medical supplies sufficient to serve 150,000 people for three months, shelter equipment such as tents and blankets, and other urgent relief items. UNICEF Sri Lanka expects to issue an appeal for some $6 million to help meet urgent needs for Sri Lanka’s children. Half of Sri Lanka’s 25 districts were directly affected by the tsunamis.
UNICEF’s Ted Chaiban in Sri Lanka also said landmines are posing a new risk to Sri Lankans, and to relief efforts. “Mines were floated by the floods and washed out of known mine fields, so now we don’t know where they are and the warning signs on mined areas have been swept away or destroyed,” he said, speaking from the UNICEF office in Colombo. “The greatest danger to civilians will come when they begin to return to their homes, not knowing where the mines are,” Chaiban added.
In India, UNICEF is supporting relief efforts led by the state and local authorities as well as the national government. In the southern state of Tamil Nadu, UNICEF is providing hundreds of thousands of water purification tablets, 1600 community water tanks (500 litres each), 200,000 sachets of oral rehydration salts, medical supplies sufficient to serve 30 health centers, and 30,000 blankets.
Other Indian states affected by the tsunamis report no need for additional assistance at this time, although there are serious concerns for the Indian islands of Andaman and Nicobar. These two island chains lie close to the epicentre of the quake, and communication has not been reliably established.
“Safe drinking water is crucial at this juncture,” Bellamy said. “Where the flooding was the worst local water supplies are contaminated and damaged. Without safe water, people will start drinking from unclean sources, and that will lead to disease. This is our number one concern at the moment.”
In Indonesia, UNICEF staff are part of a larger UN assessment team that has headed into Aceh province to identify urgent needs. A UNICEF relief flight from the supply hub in Copenhagen is being loaded with medical supplies, nutritional supplies for children, water purification tablets and shelter equipment. Communication with more remote parts of Aceh remains incomplete and a fuller picture of humanitarian needs is expected to emerge in the next 48 hours.
In the Maldives, which were hard hit by the tsunamis, UNICEF and UN sister agencies are working with the government to coordinate an international relief effort that will include the immediate provision of water purification supplies, food, clothing for children, shelter supplies, and other basics. Communication with many of the outlying islands is still sketchy, and additional needs are expected once more is known.
In Thailand, Bangladesh, and Myanmar UNICEF is supporting government-led efforts to meet localized needs. The impact of the disaster was not as widespread in these countries, although a more complete picture is still emerging.
Swept from Their Parents’ Grasp
UNICEF has had reports from the hardest-hit countries of hundreds of children separated from their families amidst the chaos of the sudden floods. UNICEF is still trying to assess the extent of this problem and will be working with governments and other relief organizations to ensure a system for identifying separated children and relocating their families and communities.
UNICEF has long-established offices in every affected country staffed by experts who live and work there throughout the year. A UNICEF appeal to help meet the needs of children affected by the region-wide disaster is expect within 48 hours.
“Time is of the essence right now,” Bellamy said. “There are a lot of people along thousands of miles of coastline that had their homes, livelihoods, and lives laid to ruin. They need our help now.”