PANAMA CITY/NEW YORK/GENEVA, 11 October, 2005- UNICEF is rushing emergency relief supplies to communities in Central America and Mexico devastated by Hurricane Stan last week, estimating that well over a third of the victims are children.
The torrential rains, flooding and mudslides caused by the storm left hundreds and possibly thousands of people dead, and close to half a million people homeless, from southern Mexico to El Salvador, in what experts described as the worst disaster to hit the region since Hurricane Mitch in 1998.
"We don't have exact figures yet, but the demographics of the affected areas suggest that more than a third of the victims of this tragedy are children, who are always the most vulnerable in floods and mudslides, especially in poor communities," said Nils Kastberg, Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean. In many indigenous villages hit by the disaster, children and adolescents make up close to 50% the population.
"Like the terrible earthquake that struck Pakistan on Saturday, this tragedy also has a child's face and we are calling on donor governments, companies and individuals to help UNICEF respond to both emergencies," he added.
As part of initial UN emergency appeals and in coordination with the governments involved, UNICEF is seeking close to $6 million for the humanitarian effort in Guatemala and El Salvador and has already diverted hundreds of thousands of dollars from its regular development programmes in the affected countries to help governments and NGOs respond to the crisis. UNICEF staff are supporting assessment missions to gauge the needs of children and families in disaster-struck communities. In Guatemala, where the official death toll stands at 652 and hundreds more are reported missing, it is estimated that 130,000 people in 420 communities have been affected. Some 280 temporary shelters are housing 90,000 people. UNICEF immediately redirected $350,000 from its regular country programme for relief items and is requesting $3.6 million as part of the UN appeal issued yesterday. The assistance will address urgent needs for safe water and sanitation; monitoring nutritional status of women and children; distribution of milk to severely malnourished children; provision of basic health services, educational and recreational supplies, as well as ensuring protection for children in shelters. In El Salvador, where volcanic eruptions last week added another tragic dimension to the emergency, more than 65,000 people have been displaced and some 400 shelters established. As part of its initial response and despite the partial flooding of its own premises, UNICEF delivered 2,000 family hygiene kits to meet the immediate needs of 10,000 people; 50,000 packages of oral rehydration salts to prevent deaths from diarrhoea; personal hygiene items and water purification tablets, as well as 2,000 kits with recreation and school supplies for children in shelters. In addition to relief supplies, UNICEF is seeking an additional $2.2 million to provide further relief supplies and support for children in the shelters and to families as they return to their homes. A contribution from the US Fund for UNICEF made it possible to quickly send relief supplies to the affected countries from UNICEF's regional hub in Panama. UNICEF National Committees in Spain and other industrialized countries are also calling on individuals and corporations to donate funds to meet urgent needs in Central America and South Asia alike. In Costa Rica, where some 5,000 people were displaced and 700 are in temporary shelters, UNICEF and a range of partners mobilized to provide fuel for helicopters to speed aid to hard-to-reach communities, food, water purification tablets and psychosocial support for children in shelters. In Nicaragua and Honduras, where the impact of the storm was less severe, UNICEF offices are closely monitoring the situation and providing assistance in the framework of their ongoing co-operation with governments and civil society. Of longer-term concern to UNICEF is the impact of this disaster on education throughout the region. Close to 1,000 schools were reported destroyed or damaged in the affected countries, half of them in Mexico alone. In Mexico, UNICEF's initial response has been to send 6,000 school kits worth approximately $150,000 for distribution to affected schools in the State of Chiapas, where it has ongoing programmes. Recreation kits are being prepared to send to children in shelters. UNICEF is working with national and local education authorities across the region to make sure that children can complete the school year – in schools, shelters or other temporary facilities. "With the rains likely to continue through December in this second-worst hurricane season in history, we are rushing to provide an immediate response but also to be ready to protect children if new disasters follow," said Kastberg. For more information and interviews, contact: Robert Cohen, UNICEF Panama, tel: 507-301-7493 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Kate Donovan, UNICEF Media, tel: 212 326 7452 email: email@example.com Damien Personnaz, UNICEF Geneva, tel: +41 22 909 5716, firstname.lastname@example.org
10 October 2005: UNICEF Regional Director for the Americas and the Caribbean Region Mr. Nils Kastberg discusses the devastation wrought by the floods in southern Mexico and Central America – and what UNICEF is doing to help the region.
Latin America: Floods displace half a million
UNICEF sends emergency supplies to El Salvador
UNICEF's role in humanitarian situations
Children coping with tragedy caused by mudslides in north and central Nicaragua