Tsunami disaster – countries in crisis

UNICEF rushes supplies to survivors of disaster in Asia

Indian women and their children wait for food aid in the southern Indian city of Madras.

NEW YORK,  27 December 2004 – UNICEF is rushing supplies to coastal communities across Asia hit by massive tidal waves triggered by Sunday’s earthquake.
“Hundreds of thousands of people fought to survive the tsunamis on Sunday. Now we need to help them survive the aftermath,” said UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy. “For children, the next few days will be the most critical.”

Survivors of the tidal waves that devastated coastal communities across Asia killing more than 23,000 people at the weekend are struggling to find missing loved ones and bury or cremate their dead.

“In most of these countries the population is quite young to begin with, so we are very concerned about children who have lost their parents or may have been separated from their parents,” Carol Bellamy said on Monday.

More than 13,000 people are believed to have died in Sri Lanka, 3,500 in India, 4,500 in Indonesia and 866 in Thailand when walls of sea water up to 30 feet high unexpectedly crashed ashore on Sunday morning.

Lisette Burgers of UNICEF India was visiting the city of Chennai when disaster struck.

“We just came from one village where there were 500 houses and out of the 500, 200 had been destroyed. In that village there was a lot of destruction. Boats had been swept away over the houses – 200 boats. Even cement houses had completely broken down. Next door, cars had been completely swept away,” she said.

© UNICEF/SD/04/y.thoby
A UNICEF staff member in Copenhagen packing new Emergency Health Kits for transportation to Sri Lanka

UNICEF, other UN agencies and many NGO partners are working with the governments of the affected countries to assess needs and provide immediate assistance to the survivors.

“If there is any good news it is that UNICEF is on the ground, we are at work and we are responding with the rest of the UN immediately,” Carol Bellamy said.

“We already have medicines and shelter for people on their way to the different countries. We have reallocated money that we already had in the budget in these countries so we are not having to wait until someone says ‘go ahead’. Our teams have gone ahead. We are trying to help. We want to do as much as possible,” she said.

In Sri Lanka, UNICEF has already responded to a government request for shelter supplies, providing more than 30,000 blankets and sleeping mats, as well as T-shirts and other articles of clothing from local emergency stocks.  A relief flight from Copenhagen is scheduled to arrive on Tuesday.  It is carrying oral rehydration salts for sick children, medical supplies sufficient to serve 150,000 people for three months, shelter equipment such as tents and blankets, and other urgent relief items.  UNICEF Sri Lanka expects to issue an appeal for some $6 million to help meet urgent needs for Sri Lanka’s children.  More than five per cent of Sri Lanka’s population was directly affected by the tsunamis.

In India, UNICEF is supporting relief efforts led by the state and local authorities as well as the national government.  In the southern state of Tamil Nadu, UNICEF is providing hundreds of thousands of water purification tablets, 1,600 community water tanks (500 litres each), 200,000 sachets of oral rehydration salts, medical supplies sufficient to serve 30 health centres, and 30,000 blankets. 

Other Indian states affected by the tsunamis report no need for additional assistance at this time, although there are serious concerns for the Indian islands of Andaman and Nicobar.  These two island chains lie close to the epicentre of the quake, and communication has not been reliably established.

© UNICEF/India/04/Galway
UNICEF staff members in Chennai, India inspect water tanks before they are shipped to relief camps in coastal areas hard hit by the tidal surge that pounded southern India on December 26

In Indonesia, UNICEF staff are part of a larger UN assessment team that has headed into Aceh province to identify urgent needs.  A UNICEF relief flight from the supply hub in Copenhagen is being loaded with medical supplies, nutritional supplies for children, water purification tablets and shelter equipment.  Communication with more remote parts of Aceh remains incomplete and a fuller picture of humanitarian needs is expected to emerge in the next 48 hours.

In the Maldives, which were hard hit by the tsunamis, UNICEF and UN sister agencies are working with the government to coordinate an international relief effort that will include the immediate provision of water purification supplies, food, clothing for children, shelter supplies, and other basics.  Communication with many of the outlying islands is still sketchy, and additional needs are expected once more is known.

In Thailand, Bangladesh and Myanmar UNICEF is supporting government-led efforts to meet localized needs.  The impact of the disaster was not as widespread in these countries, although a more complete picture is still emerging. 

UNICEF has long-established offices in each affected country staffed by experts who live and work there throughout the year.  A UNICEF appeal to help meet the needs of children affected by the region-wide disaster is expected within 48 hours. 

“Time is of the essence right now,” Carol Bellamy said.  “There are a lot of people along thousands of miles of coastline that had their homes, livelihoods, and lives laid to ruin.  They need our help now.”




27 December, 2004: UNICEF Executive Carol Bellamy responds to the disaster in Asia

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  • UNICEF Communication Officer John Budd on Indonesia

  • UNICEF Communication Officer Martin Dawes on Sri Lanka

  • UNICEF India’s Chief of Water, Environment and Sanitation Lisette Burgers on Chennai, India

  • UNICEF Representative in Thailand Inese Zalitis on Thailand

  • UNICEF Communication Officer Jason Rush on Myanmar

  • UNICEF Assistant Representative Tom Bergmann-Harris on Maldives

  • UNICEF Senior Programme Officer Siddharth Chatterjee on Somalia

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