Saturday, December 3

Unicef launches ‘Save Haiti’ appeal

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THE United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) has launched a 2010 Haiti Earthquake Children’s Appeal in Malaysia to support its global effort to raise RM410 million (US$120 million) for victims of the seismic upheaval that devastated the Caribbean nation on Jan 12.

The funds raised will be used to help children and families who survive the 7.0 magnitude quake, the most powerful to have hit Haiti in more than 200 years, causing, in its wake, a humanitarian crisis of cataclysmic proportions.

The killer quake that struck shortly before 5pm, was centred about 15km southwest of Port-au-Prince. The epicentre was in Carrefour and the affected area was the West Province.

The immediate aftermath was quickly followed by several more strong aftershocks of between 5.0 and 5.9 magnitude. Buildings had either sustained massive damage or collapsed altogether, including Haitian institutional sites, government buildings, schools, hospitals and countless homes. Many buildings of the UN and international organisations had also been affected, including that of Unicef.

Because of the staggering scale and severity of the damage, including that caused to the communications infrastructure, there is no way to gauge the actual number of people killed, wounded, trapped, missing or rendered homeless.

Initial assessments, however, suggest at least one in three Haitians are affected while national reports indicate some 100,000 people could have perished. About 300,000 are believed to have lost their homes.

Twenty-seven international teams comprising over 1,500 rescuers and 115 search dogs are shifting through the ruins and rubbles in the hope of finding survivors. As of Jan 16, 60 survivors have been found.

In a statement, Unicef executive director Ann M Veneman said: “We are saddened to learn of the devastating earthquake in Haiti. While relief efforts have begun, communications are extremely difficult and accurate information is still scarce. It is clear the consequences are severe and many children are among the victims. Our hearts go out to the families whose lives have been so terribly impacted by this tragedy.”

She added that Unicef is deploying all necessary supplies, including clean water and sanitation, therapeutic foods, medical supplies and temporary shelters, to Jacmel and Port-au-Prince as quickly as possible to assist with recovery efforts.

“We will also be focusing on children who have become separated from their families, to protect them from harm or exploitation.

“Expert estimates suggest 46 per cent of Haiti’s nearly 10 million people are under 18 years old. The special needs of children for food, shelter and protection must be factored

in at the very outset of relief efforts and Unicef will do everything in its power to make sure these needs are met,” Veneman assured.

“We are also greatly concerned for our colleagues from the UN mission — MINUSTAH — many of whom are still missing.

“All Unicef staff in Port-au-Prince have been accounted for although Unicef premises in Port-au-Prince are badly damaged and our communications facilities destroyed,” she said.

Unicef’s request is part of a UN appeal for RM1.9 billion (US$562 million), launched last Friday, to facilitate humanitarian operations for the next six months in one of the poorest countries on Earth.

Haiti ranks 148 out of 179 countries on UNDP’s Human Development Index. It has a long history of being struck by one natural disaster after another, and is struggling to recover from years of violence, insecurity and instability.

Given that nearly 50 per cent of Haiti’s 10 million population is under 18, Unicef has a particularly critical role to play.

Focus in the days and weeks ahead is to prevent a second wave of disaster by ensuring against any outbreak of diarrheal infections and life threatening diseases. In this case, clean water is crucial. Just a few days ago, a 5.0 magnitude aftershock had been felt, striking fear of more imminent disaster in the heart of an already wrecked nation.

Besides supplies already in the country, Unicef is organising aid from its pre-positioned regional stocks in Panama. Additional shipments are being dispatched from the agency’s central warehouse in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Over the weekend, a plane, loaded with Unicef emergency relief, including urgently needed water and sanitation supplies — arrived in Port-au-Prince. Experts in water and sanitation were also on the flight.

An earlier Unicef shipment brought in items that included water tanks, water purification tablets and rehydration salts.

In addition, Unicef and its partners are intensifying emergency operations to protect the safety of children at risk.

One critical concern is for children who have become separated from their families and may find themselves without shelter, food, water or other basic necessities and at risk of violence and exploitation.

Those who wish to make donations to the appeal in Ringgit Malaysia can do so either through credit card   via Unicef’s secure online donation site, crossed   cheque or Bank Transfer (Maybank Account No.514329427587).

For further information, call Unicef at 03-2095 9154 or visit the website at http://www.unicef.org/malaysia