Some youngsters are so traumatized they can't say their names
TEHERAN / GENEVA, 31 December 2003 – UNICEF relief workers on the ground in Bam say that children who escaped the earthquake are still facing a major struggle to survive.
Thousands of children are without proper clothing and shelter, exposing them to severe cold at night. Cases of diarrhoea are on the rise as children drink dirty water. And the clean-up effort in devastated Bam is kicking up so much dust that children are beginning to suffer from acute respiratory infections. A surveillance system has been set up with the help of the UN to track the spread of illness.
“It’s one thing to have survived the quake itself,” said Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of UNICEF. “The new challenge is ensuring these children survive the cold and illness now stalking them.” Tens of thousands were made homeless and many of them are living wherever they can in Bam on the streets, in tents, many more have left the city with whatever possessions they were able to gather.
UNICEF said children under the age of five are the most vulnerable to illness, malnutrition, and cold. “We’re in a race against time to ensure these children and their families get the help they need to survive,” Bellamy said.
In addition to water purification and medical supplies that UNICEF delivered over the weekend, the agency said it was procuring thousands of sets of winter clothing for children for immediate distribution.
UNICEF has issued an emergency funding appeal for just under $1 million to help meet the urgent needs of Bam’s children.
Health Network Destroyed
UNICEF staff on the ground said that Bam’s two hospitals and all of its 23 health centres were destroyed in the quake, making recovery all the more difficult for the survivors. At least two-thirds of the town’s health workers were killed, according to health authorities.
In addition to the threats to child survival, UNICEF said it shared the government’s concern for those traumatized by the quake, especially children. UNICEF relief workers said some children they encountered were too traumatized to say their names or identify their parents.
“The psychological impact of an event like this can be enormous for children,” Bellamy said. She said that UNICEF would work with partners and government not only to help children survive and reunite them with their families, but to address their trauma. She noted that in recent major earthquakes, UNICEF worked quickly to open child-friendly spaces and re-start learning.
“Restoring some sense of normalcy is vital for traumatized children,” Bellamy said. “It’s an important first step in their longer-term recovery. And it gives the community something positive to rally around.”
UNICEF helps children in 158 countries worldwide, and has been present in Iran since 1962. Its annual budget is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations, and governments.
People around the world can support the UNICEF relief effort for Iran’s children by visiting the support UNICEF web site.
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For further information, please contact:
Erin Trowbridge, UNICEF Media, New York (+1 212) 326-7269
Wivina Belmonte, UNICEF Media, Geneva (+41) 79 204 2345
For daily updates on the children of Bam, visit www.unicef.org