Bellamy remarks on tsunami crisis at UN briefing
© UNICEF 2005/Debebe
UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy
14 January 2005
UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy:
Good afternoon. As you know, UNICEF is one of the UN agencies involved in the major relief effort now happening across South Asia under the leadership of the Secretary-General and the coordination of OCHA.
Having returned from a visit to Sri Lanka and Indonesia last weekend, I wanted to share with you my outlook and some of the latest information from the UNICEF operation.
This disaster has had an enormous impact on the lives of children. As you know, UNICEF has estimated that at least one-third, and as many as one-half, of the dead are children.
Our actions over the past 20 days, however, are focused on the more than 1 million children who survived, but who were directly affected by the tsunamis and whose lives and futures are under threat.
Working with governments, our UN colleagues, and the broader relief community we have focused our efforts in four chief areas: child survival, family reunification, protecting children, and getting schools up and running.
Today UNICEF issues its first assessment of the situation in the education sector. Across the region, thousands of schools have been severely damaged or completely destroyed. Thousands of teachers have been killed or injured. The exact numbers for each country are available in our press release, and on our website at www.unicef.org.
Schools and learning are vital to the immediate well-being of children, and are also key to their long-term recovery and development. For one thing, getting children in school keeps them safe, focuses them on constructive activities, and gives their families a little extra peace of mind. Providing children with this kind of normalcy makes a huge difference in their emotional healing, and in their sense of hope for the future.
Schools also provide a place where services can be offered, be it immunization campaigns, health checks, distribution of clothes or other supplies, hygiene education, trauma counselling, and so on.
And being in school gets children back on track toward their own futures, ensuring that the disaster does not hold back a whole generation of children.
I am pleased that all governments in the region have prioritized the opening of schools, and I am proud that the UN is supporting this effort with supplies, training, and technical guidance.
Apart from the effort to create a safe learning environment for children in the affected areas, we are still very much focused on the business of survival. The UN – including WHO and UNICEF – have supported measles campaigns, distribution of oral re-hydration salts and basic medicines, and the provision of safe water in every affected country.
In most places these efforts have so far prevented any large or serious outbreaks of disease, and we are working to ensure it stays that way. Today it has been reported that there have been some 20 cases of measles across the Aceh province of Indonesia (5 in Aceh Utara and 15 in Bireun, a town on the northeast coast), and we are stepping up our support to the ongoing measles vaccination drive there.
The effort seeks to immunize 575,000 children up to age 15 across Aceh. One of the logistical hurdles we’re facing is the destruction of the cold chain. We are bringing in all new cold boxes.
In terms of protecting children from exploitation, I’d say that vigilance is the key. Across the region governments and communities have responded very well to the threat of exploitation, and steps to protect children have been taken that so far seem to be working. Again, there will be exceptions and the situation can evolve very rapidly, but so far we are pleased that the reports of trafficking and other abuses of children are limited.
My number one concern for the well-being of children is focused right now on the Aceh province of Indonesia, where the destruction is still being uncovered and the dead are still being counted. The UNICEF operation there grows by the day with the addition of staff and better assessments of need, but the area affected is very spread out. Building a regular supply line of needed goods and services remains a logistical challenge.
Overall I’d say the relief effort is going reasonably well, but there is still an enormous amount of work to be done. Life is far from good for the 1.2 million people who are displaced.