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South Asia earthquake: Relief efforts focus on saving children’s lives

© UNICEF/HQ05-1460/ Pirozzi
Bilan and Tayyaba, children who survived the earthquake, with UNICEF Representative Omar Abdi at the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences, in Islamabad.

By Maya Dollarhide

NEW YORK, 14 October 2005 – One week after a severe earthquake hit South Asia, survivors are still reeling. Tens of thousands of children have been injured, and others are separated from the families, putting them at risk. Nearly one fifth of the affected population are children under five.

The focus of efforts has shifted from search and rescue to providing urgent assistance for survivors. UNICEF Deputy Director of Emergency Operations Afshan Khan said that now is the time to ensure that people affected by the disaster get the help they need: “We need to make sure they receive the right kind of medical care and attention.”

Providing shelter, clothing and blankets, nutrition and health care for children and families, many of whom have lost their homes, is a priority. Helicopters on loan from the Pakistan government are carrying UNICEF supplies to survivors in hard-to-reach areas and are bringing injured children to hospitals for treatment.

UNICEF Representative in Pakistan Omar Abdi, who is on the scene of the disaster, accompanied three badly injured children to a hospital. The children had been brought in the arms of their relatives to Muzaffarabad from outlying villages.

© UNICEF/HQ05-1455/ Zaidi
Workers loading tents into the trucks at Peshawar international airport. With temperatures dropping, providing shelter is among the top priorities for assisting quake survivors.

“It was very moving to see the confusion and the pain in their eyes,” said Mr. Abdi. At the Children’s Hospital of the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences, the children’s wards are full, and injured boys and girls spill over into the adult wards.

“All of these children have been through terrible ordeals – and now they wake to find themselves in a strange environment, sometimes without any relatives around,” said Mr. Abdi.

Protecting children

Staff from Pakistan’s Ministry of Social Welfare are teaming up with UNICEF Child Protection Officers to help put in place measures for protecting children who are separated from their families or orphaned.

“Children alone are the most vulnerable in a disaster like this and UNICEF has to be their champion, making sure their best interests are considered the entire time,” said Mr. Abdi.

The first step for children who are identified as unaccompanied will be registration by the Red Cross/Red Crescent.

Initial assessments in and around Mansehra indicate that the majority of children who have lost parents have come under the care of extended families. But even children who are not alone may still need assistance.

“We need to make sure that when children are safely returned to their families that they have enough food and water. We also need to make sure that some of the trauma they’ve suffered is dealt with,” said Ms. Khan.




14 October 2005:
UNICEF Deputy Director of Emergency Operations Afshan Khan discussed the impact of the disaster on children.

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