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Press release

After the torrents, the next threat is standing water

Contaminated drinking sources puts tsunami survivors at grave risk of disease

© UNICEF/India/2004
Children line up in India to receive clean drinking water
NEW YORK, 29 December 2004 – UNICEF warned today that without immediate, wide-scale action to provide safe water in the communities hit by Sunday’s massive ocean flooding, millions of people will be at grave risk of water-borne disease.

“Standing water can be just as deadly as moving water,” UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said Tuesday. “The floods have contaminated the water systems, leaving people with little choice but to use unclean surface water.  Under these conditions people will be hard put to protect themselves from cholera, diarrhoea and other deadly diseases.”

Children, who make up at least one-third of the overall population in the worst-affected countries, are particularly vulnerable to water-borne diseases.

“Hundreds of thousands of children who survived the massive waves that destroyed their communities now risk getting seriously ill from something as simple as taking a drink of water,” Bellamy said.

Securing safe water supplies and educating people about water and sanitation hygiene is a major component of all of UNICEF’s tsunami relief efforts, now underway in the hardest-hit countries, Bellamy said.

Water purification tablets and oral re-hydration salts to combat diarrhoea were included in the first deliveries UNICEF made to hard-hit areas of Sri Lanka on Tuesday. They also make up the bulk of two separate UNICEF relief flights headed for Sri Lanka.  A 45-ton shipment from UNICEF’s global supply center in Copenhagen is carrying primarily water-related supplies but also includes emergency health kits, school supplies and recreation kits for children; this flight will land early Thursday.  A shipment of 20 tons of tarpaulins and tents from Belgium is due to arrive in Sri Lanka late Wednesday.

In India, UNICEF has delivered an initial 50 water tanks to Kanchipuram in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, where the government has set up 200 relief sites in seven affected districts. Under the leadership of state and national authorities, UNICEF expects Wednesday to provide southern districts with hundreds of thousands of water purification tablets, an additional 1,550 community water tanks (500 litres each), 200,000 sachets of oral rehydration salts, medical supplies sufficient to serve 30 health centers, and 30,000 blankets.

“We don’t know how many people might die in the next days and weeks from disease caused primarily by bad water and sanitation conditions,” Bellamy said.  “But without doubt we know people will fall to disease.  That’s why it is essential that the relief campaign be focused on providing safe water right now.”
UNICEF assessment and relief efforts continue throughout the tsunami-affected region:

  • In Thailand, UNICEF is assessing both immediate and long-term needs in the affected areas, which in addition to the tourist spots Phuket and Krabi also include fishing communities along other areas of the coast which were completely destroyed.  UNICEF is focusing on providing water, sanitation facilities and food for those in the affected areas, especially children, as well as addressing the longer-term needs for education, psychological support and replacing lost livelihood of entire communities.
  • In Indonesia, UNICEF staff are part of a larger UN assessment team that has headed into Aceh province to identify urgent needs. Some 500,000 people in the province have been directly affected, particularly in the provincial capital of Banda Aceh, where houses have been destroyed and water, power and telecommunications disrupted. All but two of Banda Aceh’s ambulances were destroyed. UNICEF is sending emergency health kits to supply 200,000 people for two weeks by plane from Copenhagen; UNICEF is expected to provide the first UN humanitarian aid to the province by late Thursday or Friday.
  • In Somalia, where hundreds of families have been left without shelter, food and clean drinking water, a UNICEF team assessing the affected areas with local authorities is delivering immediate assistance of oral re-hydration salts, chlorine powder and essential drugs while arranging for increased supplies as needed. In addition to providing clean water and sanitation facilities, UNICEF will focus on emergency health care, nutritional needs, family relief kits and temporary shelters for the affected families.

“This is definitely a case of ‘water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink,’” Bellamy observed.  “Along thousands of miles of coastline circling the Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal, children and families who survived the tsunamis are struggling to survive their aftermath.  They are counting on us – all of us – to help provide the water they desperately need.”

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UNICEF features updated photos, interviews, and information by country online at: https://www.unicef.org/
A video interview with Carol Bellamy is available at http://www.thenewsmarket.com/unicef/

For interviews and other details from the ground, contact UNICEF press officers:

In Sri Lanka: Martin Dawes  cell: + 977 985 10 40961,
                      office: 94 11 2555270 x 250, GMT +6 hrs

In The Maldives: Binita Shah + 960 784 196, GMT +5 hrs

In India: Corrine Woods + 91 981 86 49088, GMT +5:30 hrs

In Indonesia: John Budd + 62 811 936 437, GMT +7 hrs

In Bangkok: Shantha Bloemen + 66 1 906 0813, GMT +7 hrs

In Geneva: Soraya Bermejo +41 22  909 5706, GMT +1 hr

In Copenhagen:  Yvonne Thoby + +45 35 27 32 19 GMT +1 hr

NY Headquarters: Simon Ingram, + 1 212 326 -7426, GMT -5 hrs




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