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At a glance: Peru

UNICEF joins relief effort after earthquake hits populated urban areas of Peru

UNICEF Image: Peru, earthquake
© Courtesy Agencia EFE
A resident of earthquake-stricken Ica in southern Peru holds his child amidst the rubble of their destroyed home.

By Kun Li

NEW YORK, USA, 17 August 2007 – UNICEF has joined the relief effort following a powerful earthquake that shook Peru on 15 August, killing more than 500 people, injuring over 1,600 and affecting a total of 85,000, including thousands left homeless.

Children and adolescents make up over a third of the population in the affected areas.

The centre of the destruction was in Peru’s southern desert, in the oasis city of Ica and the nearby port of Pisco, about 200 km southeast of the capital, Lima. In Pisco, 70 per cent of homes were badly damaged or destroyed, and at least 200 people were reportedly buried in the rubble of a church where they had been attending a service. In Ica, a city of 300,000, a quarter of the buildings collapsed.

In Lima, about 150 km from the epicentre, the 8.0 magnitude earthquake caused buildings to shake and electricity to cut off in some areas. Although some homes collapsed, only one death was reported. But the furious two minutes of shaking prompted thousands of people to flee into the streets and sleep in public parks for safety.

The government rushed police, soldiers, doctors and aid to the area, but traffic was paralyzed by giant cracks and fallen power lines in and around Lima. Large boulders also blocked Peru’s Central Highway to the Andes mountains.

UNICEF Image: Peru, earthquake
© Reuters/Olivares
Doctors help an injured girl at a hospital in Ica, south of Lima, after the quake that collapsed buildings and other infrastructure in Peru.

Need for safe water

The day after the quake, UNICEF Deputy Representative in Peru Florence Bauer said in a telephone interview that although the full extent of the damage was still unclear, the response from the government was well organized. (Listen to the interview.)

“It is a country that is used to this kind of emergency,” said Ms. Bauer. “All the hospitals in the country, including the ones from the national army, are open to provide services to anyone who may need it.”

At the government’s request, UNICEF and other UN agencies quickly began transporting emergency relief – particularly safe-water supplies – from Panama to Lima.

“An immediate response is essential in order to prevent diarrhoea in children, which is quite frequent when entire neighbourhoods collapse, no safe water is available and sanitary conditions are very limited,” said UNICEF Representative in Peru Guido Cornale. To help protect children from water-borne diseases, UNICEF has delivered chlorine, water containers and tanks, and water-purification tablets for communities in need.

UNICEF Image: Peru, earthquake
© AP Photo/Mejia
A Peruvian family inspects their destroyed home after a powerful earthquake hit Ica.

In addition, 100,000 sachets of oral rehydration salts, which are used to treat diarrhoeal dehydration, were sent to Peru from Panama yesterday.

Joint UN response

UNICEF is also working with the Ministry of Education to evaluate the quake’s impact on schools. “Fortunately, when the earthquake happened the schools were all closed,” said Ms. Bauer. “Today, all children of the country are not going to school because of the emergency. We know there is a high number of schools that have been destroyed.”

UNICEF’s response is part of a joint effort by the government and the UN system in Peru. This weekend, an inter-agency team led by the head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is expected to visit the affected areas. The team will work to further clarify the most pressing needs of children and families in the aftermath of the disaster, as well as longer-term prospects for recovery and rehabilitation in the earthquake zone.

Tim Ledwith contributed to this story.





16 August 2007:
UNICEF Deputy Representative in Peru Florence Bauer talks about the impact of the earthquake and the agency’s emergency response.
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