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Tsunami disaster – countries in crisis

Lost children left in wake of tsunami

UNICEF working to reunite children with parents or relatives

© Reuters/Arko Datta
Young tsunami survivor holds on to donated shirt at a relief camp in Cuddalore, India

NEW YORK, 30 December 2004 – Children who survived the tsunami disaster have lost all semblance of the life they knew and are in desperate need of care, UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said today.

UNICEF is particularly concerned about children who have been orphaned or separated from their families and are in critical need of basic assistance and psychological support.

“It is impossible to imagine the fear, confusion and desperation of young children who have seen enormous waves wash away their worlds and cast dead bodies upon the shore,” UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said. “Children have lost all semblance of the life they knew – from parents, siblings and friends, to homes, schools and neighborhoods. They are in desperate need of care.”

Though news reports suggest that children may account for one third of tsunami casualties, reliable figures on the number of children who lost their families during the disaster are not yet available. But there are reports from Sri Lanka and Aceh province in Indonesia of children separated from their families, many of whom do not know the status of their parents and some who are unaccompanied by adults.

There are also those like Tamarashi, a 13-year-old Indian girl, who watched from her kitchen as her parents, both of whom were sitting under a coconut palm trying to sell their catch of fish, were sucked into the raging waves. It would be three days after the waters receded before relief workers could coax Tamarashi to leave the beach. Tamarashi survived the waves after getting caught on a coconut tree and is now too stunned to do more than cry and ask why she wasn’t taken along with her parents. 

Afshan Khan, UNICEF’s Deputy Director of Emergency Operations, said UNICEF is working with international NGOs and government authorities to develop systems to identify children and reunite them with parents or other relatives.

“In the first few days of an emergency, it is extremely important that we allow families and communities to seek one another out. In some cases children may have been washed ashore, stranded and are so traumatised that they are unable to say who they are or where they are from. It is important to let community groups come together and naturally try to reunite families,” she said.

While she commended the noble intentions of the many people throughout the world who have expressed an interest in adopting children affected by the tsunami, Carol Bellamy also cautioned that hasty international adoptions during emergencies are not in the best interests of children. The first and best option, she said, is to get children in the care of relatives and close community members.

With at least a million people rendered homeless,UNICEF said it is likely that hundreds of thousands of children are in critical need not only of basic provisions such as food, water and shelter, but also of support in recovering from trauma.

UNICEF is working throughout the tsunami-affected areas to assess the needs of children and begin addressing them. To support UNICEF’s emergency response to the disaster please click here.



View video interview

30 December 2004: UNICEF's Deputy Director of Emergency Operations Afshan Khan talks about the children who have become separated from their parents as a result of the tsunami disaster

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