UN mobilizes relief efforts after deadly tsunami strikes South Pacific

Destruction from tsunami waves seen in Pago in American Samoa (AP Photo/Ardie Roque)

30 September 2009 – United Nations aid agencies are working with authorities across the South Pacific to help coordinate relief efforts in the wake of a tsunami that has struck Samoa, American Samoa and an island in northern Tonga, killing dozens of people, swamping towns and villages, and damaging vital infrastructure.

At least 62 people are confirmed to have died in Samoa, while six others are dead on the Tongan island of Niuatoputapu, according to information provided to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). In Pago Pago, the capital of American Samoa, there are unconfirmed reports of 19 fatalities.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today voiced his sadness after learning of the deaths and destruction across the region, saying in a statement issued by his spokesperson that the UN stands ready to provide assistance as required.

An emergency team is already being dispatched by OCHA to help in the wake of the tsunami, which struck late on Tuesday local time.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is assessing its stocks of relief supplies at its regional centre in Suva, Fiji, to determine what items are needed to help with humanitarian efforts. Water, sanitation and hygiene have been identified as key areas of need.

OCHA said food shortages are expected to occur in both Samoa and Tonga. The need for emergency shelter is also likely to be high, although many victims of the tsunami are likely to stay temporarily with relatives.

The UN Development Programme (UNDP) reported that the major roads on the Samoan island of Upolu have not been badly damaged, but widespread damage to homes and other infrastructure has occurred.

OCHA said that Australia, New Zealand, the United States and numerous non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are working with UN agencies and local authorities to coordinate relief efforts across the region.

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