Contaminated Drinking Sources Puts Tsunami Survivors at Grave Risk of Disease

NEW YORK -- UNICEF warned that without immediate, wide-scale action to provide safe water in the communities hit by Sundays massive ocean flooding, millions of people will be at grave risk of waterborne 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, 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 waterborne 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 UNICEFs tsunami relief efforts, now underway in the hardest-hit countries, Bellamy said.


Water purification tablets and oral rehydration 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 UNICEFs 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 blankets.


We dont 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. Thats 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 Pukhet 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, some 500,000 people in the Aceh 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 Acehs ambulances were destroyed. UNICEF is sending emergency health kits to help 200,000 people for two weeks.


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 rehydration 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.


Source: Fund for UNICEF