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Tsunami disaster – countries in crisis

Children account for one third of tsunami dead

© Reuters/Arko Datta
Kamalvathi, a survivor of Sunday's devastating tsunami, undergoes treatment in Cuddalore, India.

NEW YORK,  28 December 2004 – Children are likely to account for more than a third of those killed when massive waves smashed into coastal communities across Asia, UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said today.

“Virtually no country has a population with less than a third of its population aged eighteen years or below and in some of the countries up to 50 per cent of the population is young,” she told reporters at the United Nations.

According to UNICEF, children account for a large proportion of casualties because they represent 39 per cent of the overall population in the eight hardest-hit countries. Eyewitness accounts indicate that many children died because they weren’t strong enough to hold on to fixtures or trees when huge tidal waves swept them off their feet.

 “Kids can run but they were least able to withstand the flooding or hold on. So that is one of the reasons children have been particularly affected,” Carol Bellamy said.

Latest estimates suggest the huge undersea earthquake off the coast of Indonesia and the tsunami it triggered on Sunday killed more than 50,000 people and left millions homeless in countries around the Indian Ocean.

Sri Lanka, Indonesia, India and Thailand were among the worst hit by the undersea earthquake which measured 9.0 on the Richter scale and triggered huge waves from Malaysia to Africa.

As millions of people in coastal communities around the rim of the Indian Ocean struggle to survive the aftermath of the disaster,  the United Nations is coordinating one of the world’s largest ever relief operations.

A UNICEF-chartered plane packed with medical supplies, shelter materials and education kits left Denmark this evening.

These first supplies, destined for Sri Lanka, include enough emergency health supplies for 150,000 people for three months, 150,000 sachets of oral rehydration salts to combat diarrhoea and 20 tents. School-in-a-box kits (containing education materials for 8,000 pupils and their teachers) and recreation kits are also included in the shipment, ensuring that children can resume their education as quickly as possible and regain a sense of normality.

“We are on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, to start packing and shipping essential supplies for an emergency in the initial critical hours. Ten additional staff worked late into the evening yesterday, packing the items ready for despatch today,” said Soren Hansen, UNICEF’s head of warehouse and logistics operations in Copenhagen.

© ANTARA news agency/Saptono/ed/pd/04
Dewi cries over her daughter Amira’s lifeless body in Aceh, Indonesia

A second flight bound for Sri Lanka, sponsored by the Belgian Government and containing 20 tonnes of tarpaulins and tents, was scheduled to leave Dubai tonight.

“The earthquake and tsunamis could not have been predicted, but thanks to UNICEF’s network of emergency warehouse hubs around the world, including Dubai, we are prepared for just such a crisis,” Soren Hansen added.

More emergency health kits are expected to leave Copenhagen tomorrow (Wednesday), on their way to Indonesia.

UNICEF’s commitment is to be able to respond to an emergency within 48 hours.

UNICEF has long-established offices in every affected country staffed by experts who live and work there throughout the year. 

In Thailand, UNICEF is assessing both immediate and long-term needs in the affected areas, which in addition to the tourist spots Phuket and Krabi also include fishing communities along other areas of the coast which were completely destroyed by the tidal surge.

UNICEF is focusing on providing water, sanitation facilities and food for those in the affected areas, especially children, as well as addressing the longer-term needs for education, psychological support and replacing lost livelihood of entire communities.

In Sri Lanka, UNICEF has already responded to a government request for shelter supplies, providing more than 30,000 blankets and sleeping mats as well as T-shirts and other articles of clothing from local emergency stocks.

In India, UNICEF has delivered an initial 50 water tanks to the southern state of Tamil Nadu, where the government has set up 200 relief sites in seven affected districts. UNICEF expects to provide the region with hundreds of thousands of water purification tablets, a total of 1,600 community water tanks, 200,000 sachets of oral rehydration salts, medical supplies sufficient to serve 30 health centres, and 30,000 blankets.

Serious concerns remain for children in the Indian islands of Andaman and Nicobar where death tolls of up to 7,000 have been reported.

In Indonesia, UNICEF staff are part of a larger UN assessment team that has headed into worst-hit Aceh province to identify urgent needs. Some 500,000 people in the province have been directly affected, particularly in the provincial capital of Banda Aceh, where houses have been destroyed and water, power and telecommunications disrupted. All but two of Banda Aceh’s ambulances were destroyed.

In Somalia, where hundreds of families have been left without shelter, food and clean drinking water, a UNICEF team assessing the affected areas with local authorities is delivering immediate assistance of oral rehydration salts, chlorine powder and essential drugs while arranging for increased supplies as needed. In addition to providing clean water and sanitation facilities, UNICEF will focus on emergency health care, nutritional needs, family relief kits and temporary shelters for the affected families.

In the Maldives, which were hard hit by the tsunamis, UNICEF and UN sister agencies are working with the government to coordinate an international relief effort that will include the immediate provision of water purification supplies, food, clothing for children, shelter supplies, and other basics. 

In Bangladesh, and Myanmar UNICEF is supporting government-led efforts to meet localized needs. The impact of the disaster was not as widespread in these countries, although a more complete picture is still emerging. 

UN emergency relief co-ordinator Jan Egeland said the UN would probably make its largest ever appeal for humanitarian funding. To support UNICEF’s efforts to help children and their families who were affected by the disaster please click here.




27 December, 2004: UNICEF Executive Carol Bellamy responds to the disaster in Asia

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  • UNICEF Communication Officer John Budd on Indonesia

  • UNICEF Communication Officer Martin Dawes on Sri Lanka

  • UNICEF India’s Chief of Water, Environment and Sanitation Lisette Burgers on Chennai, India

  • UNICEF Representative in Thailand Inese Zalitis on Thailand

  • UNICEF Communication Officer Jason Rush on Myanmar

  • UNICEF Assistant Representative Tom Bergmann-Harris on Maldives

  • UNICEF Senior Programme Officer Siddharth Chatterjee on Somalia

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