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RMI Drought: UNICEF calls for attention to health and hygiene needs

RMI Drought
© UNICEF Pacific/2012/Hing
Marshalees children swimming in the main harbour

SUVA, 13 May 2013 – With thousands of people in the north of the Republic of the  Marshall Islands (RMI) experiencing severe drought conditions, it is essential that access to clean and safe drinking water, proper sanitation and nutritious food is provided immediately. Initial assessments report an increase in diarrhea and other infections among children, underscoring the need for the emergency response to include attention to health and hygiene.

UNICEF is working closely with the Pacific Humanitarian Team (PHT) partners, particularly through the Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) cluster, to provide support to the RMI government. Ongoing relief efforts, coordinated by the RMI government include the provision of water and food rations to affected communities and increase the capacity of desalinization units mobilized to the islands.

 “It is essential to work to prevent the outbreak of diarrhea and other infections which can be fatal to young children,” said UNICEF’s Chief of Policy and Advocacy, Ms. Samantha Cocco-Klein. “Without clean water to drink, wash and prepare food with, infections can easily spread. The emergency response should consider how water is purified, stored and used, and continuously remind affected families of the need to keep children safe.”

To help prevent illness, UNICEF has shared radio messages developed for the 2011 drought in Tuvalu. Messages include washing hands, boiling all drinking water, continuing to exclusively breastfeed infants under six months old and not eating spoiled food.  Emergency water and sanitation (WASH) and health supplies such as hygiene kits, water quality testing kits and oral rehydration salts (ORS) have been offered to government counterparts in RMI. 

Nutrition for children is also a concern.  Ms. Cocco-Klein said “providing mothers of infants the support to breastfeed is the simplest and best way we can protect our youngest children, particularly when hygiene and water is a challenge.” 

UNICEF is advising that food supplied to families in need should contain a balance of protein as well as starchy basics such as noodles, rice and biscuits. Families should be encouraged to use any local food that is still available, and sea foods (seaweed, shell fish & fish) to their diet.  Mothers of infants are encouraged to continue to exclusively breastfeed their newborn children. 

Following the persistent low rainfall, the government of Marshall Islands declared a state of emergency for the northern islands and atolls last month. A three-member United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team has been deployed to RMI to assist with response coordination, assessments and information management for an initial two week period.

About UNICEF

UNICEF is present in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS.  UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.

For further information please contact: 

Donna Hoerder, UNICEF Pacific, +679 9265518, dhoerder@unicef.org

Vika Waradi, UNICEF Pacific, +679 9403498, vwaradi@unicef.org 

 

 
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