|Families and children leave their homes in Constitución, south of Santiago, Chile, in response to a tsunami warning issued after strong aftershocks struck on 11 March.|
NEW YORK, USA, 12 March 2010 – A 6.9-magnitude tremor shook Chile yesterday, just before the inauguration of the country’s new President. Severe enough to trigger a tsunami alert, it was the worst of the many aftershocks that have kept Chileans on edge since a massive 8.8-magnitude earthquake struck on 27 February.
The tremor served as a reminder of the continuing need for specific international assistance that the Government of Chile has requested on behalf of some 2 million people directly affected by the crisis. UNICEF, its UN partners and other humanitarian agencies are working to provide that aid.
For its part, UNICEF is asking international donors for $3.5 million to meet the immediate and medium-term needs of children and women throughout the quake zone. Assistance from UNICEF will include psycho-social support for distressed children, emergency education, and safe water and sanitation services.
Children’s lives disrupted
The 27 February earthquake took more than 500 lives and destroyed or damaged at least 500,000 homes. Still, Chile’s solid infrastructure and advanced disaster-preparedness made it far less devastating than the 12 January quake in Haiti.
UNICEF remains concerned, however, about the impact of the earthquake and aftershocks on Chilean children, who comprise about half of the affected population. Those who live in the impoverished indigenous communities of south-central Chile, close to the epicentre of the quake, may be at particular risk.
“As in any disaster, children are the ones suffering most,” said UNICEF Representative in Chile Gary Stahl. “They are particularly vulnerable to cold, hunger and outbreaks of disease. Their lives have been brutally disrupted.”
‘We must help them now’
Shortly after the earthquake hit nearly two weeks ago, the Government of Chile declared 6 of the country’s 15 regions to be “catastrophe zones.” Children in these areas require urgent relief in order resume normal lives. UNICEF and its partners are planning for the following interventions, among others:
“Many of them will have difficulty coping with such an upheaval,” Mr. Stahl said, referring to children in the worst-affected areas. “We must help them now.”