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On the ground in India, UNICEF responds to quake

Staff Based in Gujarat Are Assessing Needs, Speeding in Supplies

Saturday, 27 January 2001: The United Nations Children's Fund announced today it has mobilized more than $700,000 in immediate assistance for the earthquake-stricken Indian state of Gujarat, supporting the relief effort with critical medical supplies, blankets, chlorine tablets and more.

UNICEF's country team in India includes a group of 15 staff who are based in Gujarat, all of whom survived the quake and who are now working to provide emergency assistance on the ground. The UNICEF staff will be joined by representatives from the World Health Organization, the UN Population Fund, and the UN Disaster Management Team to create five needs-assessment units that will begin a rapid sweep through the state on Sunday.

With top priority on supporting hospitals in caring for the injured and preventing the spread of disease, the UN teams will assess immediate needs in the areas of health, water, and sanitation. Their second immediate priority will be to assess the impact of the quake on schools. The UNICEF staff in Gujarat have expertise in all these fields.

"We are just beginning to see the scope of this disaster," said Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of UNICEF. "The loss of life could be astounding - and the task of helping the survivors stay sheltered, safe, fed and protected from disease will require an enormous outpouring of support."

UNICEF announced that it will provide $100,000 worth of life-saving medical supplies over the next 48 hours. An additional $600,000 of relief items are being procured for a second major delivery.

Despite the long holiday weekend, UNICEF has already sent in an initial shipment of relief items from its offices elsewhere in India. The items include:

§ 10,000 survival kits for displaced families
§ 25,000 blankets
§ 1 million chlorine tablets to purify water
§ 50,000 sheets of plastic for temporary sheltering

UNICEF said these commitments were just the beginning of its support for the relief effort. Over the next two weeks UNICEF will also be working closely with state and national officials to sustain immunization coverage; help restart education if requested by the authorities; and provide trauma counseling training to teachers and others who work closely with children.

"Our experience with the Turkey earthquake taught us that even as we work to help save lives and meet basic needs, we also need to be planning for classrooms to be opened, child-friendly spaces to be established, and other activities that help children cope with the disaster," Bellamy said. UNICEF said that finding safe, constructive activity for children not only helps them cope with and recover from disaster but gives their parents the peace of mind to focus on rebuilding efforts.

The relief effort over the next two to three weeks will be a massive challenge, UNICEF said. Outside the major cities and towns, Gujarat state is primarily rural, with pockets of isolated populations that may be difficult to reach.

The agency also noted that Gujarat has suffered from severe drought conditions over the past two years, meaning water supplies are already tight. UNICEF recently assisted the state government in preparing a drought mitigation and drought-proofing programme that was to be implemented in the coming six months. That programme will now be accelerated as part of the quake relief effort. Safe water and sanitation systems will be essential in the coming days to prevent the spread of disease.

The UNICEF team are working closely with the state emergency authorities and with other agencies in the UN family, including UNDP and WFP.

UNICEF is presently basing its operations in the UNICEF office in Gandhinagar, about 25 miles north of Ahmadabad, the commercial capital and most populous city in Gujarat.

To make a contibution to UNICEF programmes, visit www.supportunicef.org, or the United States Fund for UNICEF website. UNICEF has National Committees in 37 countries, each devoted to advocacy, public education, and fundraising on behalf of the world's children.

* * *

For further information, please contact:

Alfred Ironside, UNICEF Media, New York (212) 326-7261

UNICEF continues its work in Gujarat Thurs., 24 January 2002
In India, young earthquake survivors return to school Thurs,14 June 2001
Immunizations begin in quake zone
Tues, 13 February 2001
UNICEF wary of post-quake international adoptions Fri, 9 February 2001
Comments by Maria Calvis, UNICEF, from Gujarat Tuesday, 6 February 2001
Half of all schools damaged or destroyed in India quake zone Mon, 5 February 2001
Emergency Update, Monday, 29 January 2001
UNICEF delivers drugs to quake area, assesses impact on children Mon, 29 Jan. 2001
On the ground in India, UNICEF responds to quake Sat, 27 January 2001