Solomon Islands: UN aid workers start recovery efforts after tsunami

4 April 2007 – United Nations emergency and relief workers have begun recovery efforts in the Solomon Islands, helping to set up and run temporary field hospitals to treat the victims of Monday’s undersea earthquake and subsequent tsunami that has killed at least 34 people and displaced more than 5,000 others.

Eight field hospitals will be established by the Solomon Islands to meet the medical needs of 10,000 people for the next three months, with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) supporting four and the World Health Organization (WHO) and its non-governmental organization (NGO) partners backing the other four.

A temporary hospital has already been set up in Gizo, where the existing hospital has reportedly been damaged beyond use. Gizo Island is one of the worst-affected areas, and more than 1,500 residents are now living in makeshift settlements in the hills above the town. Three camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) have been set up in Western province as well.

UNICEF and WHO are sending extra emergency medical kits to the South Pacific nation, in addition to the supplies they have already pre-positioned in case of emergency. Food, water and sanitation, shelter, medical supplies and basic household goods have been identified as priorities in the recovery efforts.

UNICEF issued an urgent appeal today for $500,000 to help women and children in both the Solomon Islands and neighbouring Papua New Guinea, which was also affected by the disaster.

The Fund estimates that 30,000 children – half of whom are under the age of five – have been affected, and need help to survive and avoid hunger, disease and the effects of poor or overloaded sanitation facilities.

A particular concern is malaria, which is endemic to the area, and UNICEF is trying to ensure that displaced families have access to insecticide-treated nets and malaria prophylaxes. Water purification tablets, jerry cans, water tanks and hygiene materials such as soap and buckets are also needed.

At least 34 people have been killed and many more remain missing, according to Government figures, following Monday’s tsunami, which was caused by an earthquake measuring 8.1 on the Richter scale. The quake struck 345 kilometres northwest of Honiara, capital of the Solomon Islands. Since then, there have been almost 30 smaller aftershocks, although no further damage has been reported.

The tsunami indicates the need for a stronger emergency response in the world’s most vulnerable island nations, the head of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said today.

“Despite a newly strengthened warning system in the Pacific, which issued bulletins within minutes of the earthquake occurring and updated at regular intervals, a tsunami has again claimed lives and wreaked havoc on coastal communities,” UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura said.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning System was created by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO in the 1960s, and on Monday helped to send early warnings across the region, allowing authorities in most areas to take preventive action. But the earthquake’s epicentre was only 43 kilometres from the coast of the Solomon Islands, which left little time for warnings to reach the residents of Gizo.

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