|© REUTERS/ Wilking|
|Jaquin Johnson (left), 2, and Heaven Girod, 5 months, are carried by Larry Harrison from a flooded area in New Orleans.|
NEW YORK, 2 September 2005 – Thousands in US communities hit hard by Hurricane Katrina are living precariously in overcrowded, makeshift shelters or on the streets. Conditions remain perilous, as water levels are still high in many areas, and food and drinking water are scarce.
Children and their families, having survived the hurricane, are now being exposed to potentially life-threatening conditions – including contaminated water, civil unrest and disease.
In the city of New Orleans evacuations continue, but for those who remain behind – many of them ill – the situation is becoming more and more desperate.
People forced to flee their homes are being sent to temporary shelters in neighbouring states. Local hospitals are overwhelmed. In some instances, babies and children are being airlifted to other states without their parents, for medical treatment.
Extent of the damage
UNICEF today expressed sympathy for the families who have lost homes, livelihoods and loved ones to Hurricane Katrina, urging them not to give up hope.
"Our hearts go out to all the victims of this tragedy, especially the children," said UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman. "All those who are suffering loss and despair should know that the world is with them."
Ms. Veneman, a former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, has travelled through the affected region many times over the years and said she was astonished by the extent of the damage.
"After many years at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and six months travelling the world with UNICEF, I have seen a lot of disaster areas, including areas hit by the tsunami," she said. "This looks as bad as any natural disaster I've ever seen."
Based on UNICEF's experience with last year’s tsunami and elsewhere, Ms. Veneman said that saving lives and keeping people healthy, nourished, and sheltered were likely to be the top priorities for many days to come.
Ms. Veneman added that getting children back into some sort of school or makeshift classroom would be an important next step to ensure their emotional recovery. She praised the swift and generous action of neighbouring states and communities which have already opened their schools to children displaced by the disaster. Katrina struck just before the beginning of the school year.
Some survivors may need psychosocial support, especially the young.
“Don’t forget, these people are traumatized,” said UNICEF Director of the Office of Emergency Programmes, Dan Toole. “We must mobilize teachers and counsellors to help the children.”
UNICEF offers emergency supplies
Ms. Veneman has been in touch with senior U.S. officials and said that UNICEF – along with the rest of the United Nations – is exploring how it might help. UNICEF keeps a variety of pre-packed emergency supplies in its global supply hubs, for example, and a list of these items is being forwarded to U.S. relief officials.
“The focus right now is on keeping people alive,” said Mr. Toole. “Getting them food, water and shelter – that is what the Red Cross is doing, and people should support their efforts.”
UNICEF urges people around the world who want to help to contribute to any of the excellent relief organizations that operate in the United States, such as the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, Lutheran Relief, and others.
United Nations offers help
Yesterday, United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland offered the United States the world body’s help in “any way possible” following the loss of life and large-scale destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina along the country's Gulf Coast.
The offer was made in a letter to US Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton.
Mr. Egeland has been encouraging donors to contribute to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) active in helping people affected by the hurricane. The UN Staff Unions in New York and Geneva are working to raise money for hurricane survivors.
Today, Secretary-General Kofi Annan phoned United States President George W. Bush to reiterate his offer of United Nations aid for the recovery from Hurricane Katrina, while the world body’s entire emergency relief system went on standby for a possible request for help in the huge disaster.
Maya Dollarhide contributed to this story.
2 September 2005:
UNICEF Director of the Office of Emergency Programmes Dan Toole talks about the impact of natural disasters on children.