UN assisting Chile in aftermath of massive quake

Scene from Chile following the 27 Feb '10 earthquake

1 March 2010 – Following a request from the Chilean Government for assistance in the wake of Saturday’s devastating earthquake, the United Nations and Member States are assisting the South American nation to assess the damage wrought and help people in need.

The 8.8-magnitude earthquake occurred in the early hours of the morning on 27 February, and has claimed more than 700 lives, according to Government officials, with the death toll expected to climb as communications are restored to the most affected areas.

Authorities in Chile have issued a request for supplies, including mobile bridges, satellite telephones, electric generators, water purification systems and dialysis centres.

For its part, the UN is sending dozens of satellite telephones to Chile from New York and Geneva, said Alicia Barcena, Executive-Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), which is headquartered in the capital, Santiago.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has offered 30 tons of food support, which is ready to be transported to Chile from nearby Ecuador.

Speaking to reporters in New York via telephone, Ms. Barcena commended the Chilean Government for being “very efficient, very well-organized [and] very quick to respond.”

Out of nearly 1,000 ECLAC personnel, no casualties have been reported but 64 staff are unaccounted for, she said. With February a busy holiday season, around five staff members were in the areas surrounding the city of Concepción, near the epicentre of the earthquake, and they have been accounted for.

Countries such as Argentina are sending in urgently-needed field hospitals, with the Chilean Air Force having already setting up four field hospitals, each holding up to 60 patients.

The UN World Health Organization (WHO) reported today that the quake has severely disrupted health services and has dispatched a disaster management expert to the South American nation to assist in the aftermath of the catastrophe.

The health network in the country’s north is operating normally, with hospitals continuing to function in the metropolitan area of Santiago.

In the south, however, access to health services is proving to be a major challenge, with the collapse of six hospitals and two others being severely damaged.

Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)/WHO noted that there is a shortage of healthcare personnel, but that everyone in need of medical assistance is receiving it at this time.

Chilean infrastructure has been severely impacted, with some 500,000 homes having been seriously damaged. Adobe structures are believed to have been most affected and indigenous populations most at risk.

The disaster management expert deployed by PAHO/WHO – whose facilities in Santiago sustained damage and is now operating out of a Government building – will support its country office and work with efforts led by the Ministry of Health to assess damage to health facilities.

A PAHO/WHO health emergency response team, comprising more than 80 trained specialists in a range of disciplines, is on standby.

The agency is also urging Member States in the region which have available field hospitals and generators to send them to Chile.

The head of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) today said that her agency is prepared to assist Chile recover from the massive quake, underscoring the need for countries in high-risk areas to bolster their disaster risk reduction capacity.

“The earthquake that struck Chile is another distressing example of our vulnerability to natural disasters and the need for greater vigilance and preparedness,” said UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova.

“This is especially important for high-risk coastal communities, where there is little time for populations to receive any warning, as was sadly the case for those parts of Chile’s coastline that were close to the earthquake’s epicentre.”

She acknowledged the rapid actions taken by authorities across the Pacific region to the potential for tsunamis in the wake of the quake. The Pacific Tsunami Warning System, set up by UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission in the 1960s after a similar earthquake off the Chilean coast, began issuing regular warnings moments after Saturday’s quake.

For its part, the World Bank has also extended its support to Chile to in the aftermath of the earthquake. “Our thoughts are with the people of Chile at this difficult time,” said World Bank Group President Robert B. Zoellick.


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