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UNICEF to support water, sanitation and hygiene in China’s quake zone

BEIJING, 1 July  2008 – Now that more than 5 million people have been relocated to temporary shelters due to the 12 May Sichuan earthquake, provision of safe water and sanitation is a top priority. A recently concluded UNICEF mission has found that in most tent camps and densely populated settlements, access to safe water and sanitation facilities and the promotion of good hygiene behavior are improving but still inadequate.

According to a June 11 report, the Ministry of Water Resources found that 72,400 rural water supply systems and 36,500 kilometers of water distribution pipelines were damaged by the earthquake, affecting more than 9 million people. A large number of latrines in the worst affected areas have also been damaged. According to UNICEF’s assessment 4,185 villages and 446 townships in the worst affected counties in Sichuan need to repair sanitation facilities.

“In relocation camps and other densely populated settlements there is an urgent need to improve water and sanitation services such as the disposal of human waste, sewage and drainage systems,” said Yang Zhenbo, UNICEF Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Specialist. Yang has recently returned from a mission to Beichuan, Mianzhu, Shifang, Pengzhou and Dujiangyan in Sichuan.

“Most of the displaced people are using makeshift toilets - sometimes just very simple pit latrines without water flush or waste treatment facilities. Those latrines are especially dangerous for children and the elderly to use.”

Since the 12 May earthquake no major outbreaks of sanitation and hygiene related illness have been reported. “Chinese authorities have dispatched staff to every settlement to monitor disinfection, the quality of water and food and promotion of hygiene practices,” said Yang, “I am quite impressed with the efficiency of China’s disease control authority.”

Experts suggest that in the next 2 to 3 months, vigorous efforts must be continued to prevent disease outbreaks. As more refugees are transferred to temporary camps, there is a need for expanded response, especially in the provision of sanitation and water facilities in the newer settlements. More water distribution networks will be needed for relocated people who are being moved from the quake-induced lake areas.

UNICEF is finalizing a joint water and sanitation programme with the Government of China to cover the needs of several million children and their families now living in shelters. When finalized, the programme is expected to have a budget of USD 5 million. It will provide technical support and supplies to local partners in water supply, sanitation, hygiene and health education that will cover prefabricated camps, tents, hospitals and schools. The joint project will concentrate on four counties in Sichuan: Pengzhou, Mianzhu, Beichuan, and Qingchuan.

On June 30, UNICEF delivered 25,858 packs of water purification tablets worth US$1,454,081 to Pengzhou and Mianzhu. Another batch of 53,000 packs will arrive in the next few weeks. The whole consignment is expected to benefit 2 million people for 3 months. With the help of such tablets, water pumped from uncertain sources can be made safe to drink, said Ms Nie Ping, UNICEF supply and procurement officer.

About UNICEF in China

 UNICEF first assisted China between 1947 and 1951, providing emergency services, food and nutrition, health and hygiene training during and after the Revolutionary War. In 1979 UNICEF officially commenced its cooperation with the Government of China to support 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 on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. 

For further information, please contact: Dale Rutstein, UNICEF China, +86 13910973801, or Liu Li, UNICEF China, +86 13701066671,




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