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UNICEF and partners stand ready to help after massive earthquake strikes Chile

© Reuters/Alvarado
A boy walks past destruction caused by the 27 February earthquake in Chile, which unleashed a Pacific tsunami that caused extensive damage in southern coastal towns.

NEW YORK, USA, 1 March 2010 – UNICEF and its UN partners are monitoring events and stand ready to help in the aftermath of an 8.8-magnitude earthquake that shook Chile early Saturday, 27 February.

The quake reportedly killed at least 700 people and displaced an estimated 1.5 million, causing widespread damage to homes, hospitals, schools, roads and other infrastructure. All UNICEF staff in Chile have been accounted for.

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This earthquake came just six and a half weeks after a less powerful but more deadly one struck Haiti, where intensive aid operations continue. UNICEF has made clear that its humanitarian commitments in Haiti will not stand in the way of providing help to Chile in areas of expertise that may be required.

According to UNICEF Director of Emergency Programmes Louis-Georges Arsenault, the organization could possibly provide assistance in areas such as child protection and water purification. Unless the situation worsens, however, neither UNICEF nor the United Nations is expected to launch a special funding appeal for Chilean quake relief, Mr. Arsenault said.

"But we do invite people to support UNICEF globally on fundraising work, which could be diverted to Chile if need be," he added.

© Reuters/Ruiz Caballero
Families gather on a street in downtown Santiago after an 8.8-magnitude earthquake shook Chile, killing hundreds of people and causing severe damage to infrastructure.

‘Zones of catastrophe’

Saturday’s quake hit at 3:34 a.m. local time off the Chilean coast. The epicentre was 325 km southwest of the capital, Santiago, but just 100 km from Chile’s second-largest city, Concepción, which has a population of more than 200,000. A tsunami triggered by the earthquake caused additional damage in some southern coastal towns.

The Government of Chile has declared ‘zones of catastrophe’ in the affected regions, including Bio-Bio, Maule, Araucania, Valparaiso and Metropolitan Santiago.

Following its initial assessment of needs and damage, the government said today that it would accept some offers of international assistance – particularly aid in the form of field hospitals, temporary bridges and water-purification supplies, as well as damage-assessment experts and search-and-rescue workers.

Meanwhile, Chile’s Ministry of Education has suspended the start of the school year by one week. Classes had been scheduled to resume today but will now begin on 8 March.

© Reuters/Jose Luis Saavedra
A boy stands next to a building destroyed in the Chilean city of Concepción, some 100 km south of the earthquake’s epicentre.
Children are most vulnerable

While the number of deaths in Chile is expected to rise, it seems likely to reach only a small fraction of the toll from the 12 January earthquake in Haiti. Even though that quake was much lower in magnitude than the one in Chile, extreme poverty and a far more fragile infrastructure magnified the effects of natural disaster in the Caribbean nation.

The onset of the rainy season in Haiti is currently causing concern about the ability of relief agencies to deliver supplies and services. Nevertheless, UNICEF and its partners in Haiti are moving ahead with an emergency education operation for children affected by the disaster.

Children are the most vulnerable in any emergency. Besides urgent interventions to ensure child survival and protection in such situations, UNICEF works to restore education as quickly as possible – providing a sense of normalcy and security for children whose world has been turned upside-down.




1 March 2010: UNICEF Director of Emergency Programmes Louis-Georges Arsenault discusses UNICEF's response to Chile's earthquake.
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