Burlington, North Carolina, USA – 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.
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Tsunami and earthquake relief organizations.“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, diarrhea 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 diarrhea 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 liters each), 200,000 sachets of oral rehydration
salts, medical supplies sufficient to serve 30 health centers, and 30,000
“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
UNICEF assessment and relief efforts continue throughout the tsunami-affected
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.”
With millions of people affected in India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, the
Maldives, and other countries, UNICEF and other UN agencies have been working
with governments to assess pressing priorities and provide immediate assistance.
Sri Lanka and Indonesia are likely to have the greatest need for humanitarian
support, UNICEF said.
“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. “We’re concerned about providing safe water, which is urgent in
all these countries, and about preventing the spread of disease. For children,
the next few days will be the most critical.”
In Sri Lanka, UNICEF has already responded to 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 will take off to Colombo on Tuesday carrying 45 tons of
supplies. It will be 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. Half of Sri Lanka’s 25 districts were directly affected by the
UNICEF’s Ted Chaiban in Sri Lanka also said landmines are posing a new risk to
Sri Lankans, and to relief efforts. “Mines were floated by the floods and
washed out of known mine fields, so now we don’t know where they are and the
warning signs on mined areas have been swept away or destroyed,” he said,
speaking from the UNICEF office in Colombo. “The greatest danger to civilians
will come when they begin to return to their homes, not knowing where the mines
are,” Chaiban added.
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, 1600 community water tanks (500 litres each), 200,000 sachets of oral
rehydration salts, medical supplies sufficient to serve 30 health centers, and
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
epicenter of the quake, and communication has not been reliably established.
“Safe drinking water is crucial at this juncture,” Bellamy said. “Where
the flooding was the worst local water supplies are contaminated and damaged.
Without safe water, people will start drinking from unclean sources, and that
will lead to disease. This is our number one concern at the moment.”
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.
[Photo 1: Children line up in Sri Lanka to receive clean drinking water ©
UNICEF/SriLanka/2004; Photo 2: UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy; Photo 3:
© UNICEF//HQ00-0631/LeMoyne. All photos courtesy of UNICEF].