|A boy is rescued from the debris of a collapsed building after an earthquake in Dujiangyan, Sichuan Province.|
SICHUAN, China, 15 May 2008 – Two days after the largest earthquake to hit China in a generation, the Chinese Government yesterday formally requested the support of the international community to respond to the needs of affected families.
Official casualty counts put the number of dead close to 15,000, with over 25,000 people still buried under debris and another 14,000 missing. The Xinhua news agency reported that an estimated 65,000 people were injured in Sichuan Province.
Thousands of schoolchildren are among the victims of the quake, which struck in the middle of the school day. There are an estimated 12 million school age children in Sichuan. More than 2 million of them live in the most damaged prefectures, according to UNICEF Communication Officer Dale Rutstein, who asserts that it is “no longer possible to keep track of the number of schools and public buildings that have collapsed, burying many children and adults under rubble.”
In the town of Juyuan, at least 900 children are believed dead in the rubble of a middle school.
“The misery and the trauma of the families involved … creates a very difficult situation,” said Mr. Rutstein. “We have a lot of distraught families. Many of these families have lost their only child. So we think there’s going to be a lot of work to do for quite some time.”
|Injured students receive medical checks near the debris of a collapsed building at a primary school at Liangping County after an earthquake in Chongqing municipality.|
Massive rescue effort under way
According to wire service reports, military aircraft today dropped relief supplies and personnel by parachute from the air. A number of villages and small towns were almost completely destroyed. Reports from the town of Yingxiu found just 2,300 of 10,000 residents alive.
The government has mobilized more than 100,000 personnel to aid in rescue efforts. In order to reach the hardest-hit areas, these teams have been forced to cover the final miles on foot and in very difficult terrain.
In response to today’s request for aid, UNICEF China is readying relief supplies with an initial emphasis on health kits, tents and shelter materials, and water and sanitation supplies. Over the next few weeks, it is estimated that approximately $5 million will be needed to fully respond to immediate needs.
Important work interrupted
“We’ll be looking to immediately tend to the casualties, the people who are injured,” said Mr. Rutstein. “But the biggest concern of ours right now is we just don’t know how big this is going to be. Sichuan is one of the most populous provinces in China, and it’s one of the poorer provinces in China. So we’re quite fearful it’s going to get a lot bigger.”
Prior to the earthquake, UNICEF China had been implementing its programmes extensively throughout Sichuan Province. In the worst affected counties, UNICEF implements early childhood development, HIV/AIDS, child protection and local planning projects.
Funds generated for the response to this disaster will most likely be used for the early relief phase as well as the longer-term recovery and development of quake-affected communities.