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Tsunami disaster – countries in crisis

Structures and lives rebuilt in Maldives

© UNICEF Maldives/2005
Container with UNICEF aid supplies arrives in airport.

NEW YORK, February 2005 - When the Indian Ocean tsunami struck the Republic of  Maldives, located 416 miles southwest of Sri Lanka, the 1198 islands that form its archipelago were completely submerged for several minutes.  Even though many were partly shielded by coral reefs, 69 islands suffered significant damage and 20 had to be evacuated. 
The government responded swiftly, as did UNICEF, and aid came quickly to those affected by the deadly waves.  The island’s excellent comunication network allowed officials to make contact with the most devastated islands and to assess the damage in a matter of hours.  A Crisis Task Force helped coordinate evacuations, mobilized emergency assitance, offered free transportation between islands and also ensured that the injured were brought to area hospitals. 

Following a request for international support,  UNICEF sent aid supplies which arrived in  Male, the country’s capital, within five days.  The National Security Service mobilized its soldiers to organize the distribution of incoming goods and nine days later, massive bulks of aid began reaching the islands, delivered by barges hired by UNICEF.

In the months that followed the disaster, UNICEF contributed to the distribution of necessary supplies for health, water, sanitation, and education interventions.  64 rural health facilities were re-equipped and a country-wide effort was initiated to give citizens replacement health cards.  UNICEF also delivered water storage tanks to many islands whose pipes and septic facilities were destroyed. UNICEF has also provided metal structures to create 39 temporary classrooms, 8 toilet blocks, and 15 teachers’ quarters.

© UNICEF Maldives/2005
Officials oversee the arrival of aid.

Progress has been made in the effort to rebuild , but there are still critical issues to address.  With some of the island’s sewage tanks flooded or blocked with mud, families have been using the shoreline in lieu of sanitary restroom facilities.  Even though there have been no reports of diarrheal or other communicative diseases, officials fear an outbreak if people are not able to follow proper hygienic procedures.

“Maintaining personal hygiene and handling water properly is essential when people are crowded together under difficult circumstances,” says Shola Ismail, UNICEF WES officer. 

UNICEF is currently sponsoring a campaign to educate Maldivians of the risks of poor hygiene.  Posters featuring large drawings are being provided to health workers and school facilitators in communities all over the country.  They use drawings instead of words “so that very young children and older people who can’t read would benefit too,” according to Angelina Xavier, UNICEF WES Project Officer.

Another priority is re-building, staffing, and providing book supplies for schools.  A team of civil engineers recently determined that six schools will need heavy repairs or they will need to be rebuilt entirely.  UNICEF has made arrangements with a local shipper to transport all the necessary construction materials and machinery, as well as thousands of books, bookbags, and other supplies, to schools in various atolls, or districts.  In the first four weeks of relief efforts, inter-island costs amounted to $500,000 according to Jean Cedric Meeus, UNICEF Logistics Officer.

Just as the structures of the schools were shaken by the force of the waves, so were the children’s psyches.  In the Maldives, the children cannot escape the sight of the ocean, which is a constant reminder of the disaster.  As they returned to school more than a month ago, teachers and counselors began assessing their behavior and addressing their fears.  With the help of school-in-a-box kits distributed by UNICEF, the children were encouraged to paint what they remembered of the devastating event   Their pictures portray a world turned upside down. The teachers are helping them to recover, partly by encouraging them to reveal their feelings.  Some things cannot be repaired quickly.



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