UNICEF: Number of children affected by natural disasters growing

One third of those affected in Indonesia are children

UN children's agency UNICEF is appealing for immediate assistance to help meet the growing needs of children and families in south Asia and the Pacific affected by the recent spate of natural disasters that have devastated a number of countries in these regions.

UNICEF has expressed great concern over the growing number of children and families affected by two earthquakes that struck the Indonesian island of Sumatra in as many days. According to initial estimates, yesterday's earthquake has registered 7.6 on the Richter-scale and has killed upward of 500 people -- an estimate that is expected to rise. Tens of thousands of people have been forced to leave their homes and one-third of those affected are estimated to be children.

"UNICEF is unique in that we are present in countries, before, during and after emergency situations and humanitarian crises," said Caryl Stern, president and CEO, the U.S. Fund for UNICEF. "Children are the most vulnerable in crisis situations like these and while we have supplies pre-positioned for immediate response, because of the back-to-back emergencies, concentrated largely in near-by regions, there has been a significant strain on resources and we desperately need public support to address the immediate and expanding needs of children and families."

The UNICEF Pacific office based in Suva, Fiji has sent a team to Samoa and Tonga to assist with a rapid assessment and focus on the needs of children and their families who have been affected by the tsunami that struck the Pacific region on September 29th. UNICEF is also offering assistance to American Samoa.

American Samoa, Samoa and Tonga were hit by the tsunami early Tuesday morning following an 8.3 magnitude earthquake striking off the coast of Samoa. The confirmed number of fatalities in the three countries has exceeded 150. Tens of thousands have been affected and there are reports of entire villages having been destroyed by the towering tsunami wave.

This past weekend after tropical storm Ondoy (aka Ketsana) struck the Philippines, UNICEF was able to respond within 24 hours supplying food and non-food items as well as temporary shelter to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) for distribution to flood-stricken communities.

Data from the Philippines' National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) reveals that 2.5 million people have been affected, with 300,000 people being relocated to 200 evacuation centers. This number is expected to change, however, based on two new storms forecasted to hit the Philippines' northern provinces this weekend.

Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia have also been affected by the rains and subsequent flooding caused by tropical storm Ondoy. While there has been extensive damage in all three countries it has not risen to the level of devastation seen in the Philippines.

UNICEF is in constant coordination with the governments of all the affected countries in the Asia Pacific region, as well as other humanitarian agencies to deliver much-needed goods and services. UNICEF officials comprise part of the different assessment teams made up of emergency specialists and have traveled to many sites this week to further ascertain how children are being affected by these earthquakes and massive flooding caused by rains and tsunami waves.

As the relief and recovery efforts continue in the Asia Pacific region, UNICEF is concerned about the long-term effects of the disasters on children, including health risks posed by contaminated water, poor nutrition, and psychosocial trauma.

"Every day 24,000 children die of preventable causes -- many in the countries that have been affected by these disasters. We do not want these emergencies to further compound the tragedy of these unnecessary deaths," said Stern. "One of UNICEF's strengths lies in our ability to handle multiple, ongoing, humanitarian emergencies."

In all of the emergencies, funds are needed for hygiene kits, essential medicines, water purification tablets, portable toilets and family kits containing blankets and soap, and child protection services. UNICEF is also assisting the governments and other humanitarian agencies in the region to address gaps in the delivery of aid to those affected.


U.S. Fund for UNICEF


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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