Two days ahead of a global conference here to coordinate aid for the countries devastated by tsunamis, UNICEF today proposed four fundamental priorities for children that the agency said are essential to the overall success of the relief effort.
Speaking on the day she arrived in Indonesia following a two-day tour of flood-smashed Sri Lanka, UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said that “there are four basic measures that must be implemented to give this devastated tsunami generation a fighting chance.”
The four relief priorities that UNICEF said all players in the relief effort should emphasize include:
First, a focus on keeping children alive, with an emphasis on clean water, adequate sanitation, basic nutrition, and routine medical care. These are basics that cannot be over emphasized, UNICEF said. In Indonesia especially, survival is now the primary challenge for children in unreached communities.
Second, caring for separated children. She said all relief plans must give high priority to finding children who’ve lost their families, identifying them, and reuniting them with their extended families and communities. UNICEF is involved in efforts to register and care for unaccompanied children in every country.
Third, relief efforts must ensure that children are protected from exploitation. In tumultuous environments like those in the tsunami zone – where families are broken apart, incomes are lost, and hope is in short supply – children are more vulnerable. Bellamy said all relief must be conceived and carried out in a way that reduces these vulnerabilities. In some of the affected countries, reports have been emerging of opportunistic child traffickers moving in to exploit vulnerable children. UNICEF is working closely with local and national authorities to head off these criminal activities.
Fourth, UNICEF said the relief campaign must help children cope with their trauma by getting them back in school as quickly as possible and train adults who interact with children –such as teachers and health workers – to spot the signs of severe trauma. “Nothing will signal hope more clearly than rebuilding and reopening schools,” Bellamy said. “Being in a learning environment gives children something positive to focus on, and enables the adults around them to go about the business of rebuilding with greater confidence.” She noted that schools have been damaged and destroyed in every tsunami country, with ongoing assessments to survey where and when learning can be re-established.
“I’m not satisfied that the global relief effort is focused enough on the more than 1.5 million children made vulnerable by this calamity,” Bellamy said. She said that while there are many strong and encouraging relief efforts across the Indian Ocean region, with positive results such as the prevention of major disease outbreaks so far, there can be no letting up. “It’s been a physically, emotionally, and logistically challenging week for everyone involved in the response effort, but if anything we need to push ourselves to the next level of urgency,” she said. She noted that UNICEF has sent dozens of additional staff to support the efforts of its large country offices in the key areas affected.
UNICEF urged all parties involved in the global response to make these four measures for children priorities in the coordinated relief effort. She said she would emphasize these priorities at the global coordination meeting in Jakarta on Thursday.
Bellamy added that UNICEF is devoting its own resources to these areas, and will support governments and other partners to do so as well. In many places UNICEF has been asked to lead in coordinating the international effort in these sectors.
Bellamy will tour the Aceh province of Indonesia on Wednesday, along with the Director-General of WHO, Mr. Jon-Wook Lee and the European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, Mr. Louis Michel.
She said that UNICEF has delivered basic medicines and shelter supplies to displacement camps in Banda Aceh, the capital city, and has water purification supplies, recreation and school kits, and other vital materials en route. She also said the UN is conducting aerial surveys of Aceh to assess the situation in outlying areas not yet reachable by road, and that measures to ensure that unaccompanied children are found, registered and cared for are underway.
“It’s been over a week and every passing day is now critical,” Bellamy said. “All of us have to focus on these priorities for saving children, and we have to do it now.”