Food, electricity, water top priorities for post-quake Chile, UN relief wing reports

Heads of UN offices in Chile continue to meet daily on the situation in the country following the 27 February earthquake

3 March 2010 – The situation in the main areas of Chile affected by the recent earthquake is still critical, the United Nations relief wing reported today, noting that access to food and the restoration of electricity and drinking water are still the top priorities.

According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), at least 723 people were killed and 2 million affected by the 8.8-magnitude quake, which occurred just off the coast of Chile early Saturday morning.

The Government of Chile has declared 6 out of its 15 regions as zones of catastrophe – Valparaiso, Metropolitana, Libertador O´Higgins, Araucania, Biobío and Maule.

Yesterday the Deputy UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Catherine Bragg, told a news conference that the UN stands ready to support in every way possible, adding that rescue and relief efforts in the six affected regions is “firmly in the hands” of the Chilean Government.

The Government has so far requested very specific priority items, such as field hospitals with surgical facilities, dialysis centres, generators, satellite phones, structural damage evaluation systems, salt water purification systems, mobile bridges and field kitchens.

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the regional arm of the World Health Organization (WHO), reported today that the first foreign field hospitals from Argentina and Peru have already arrived in Chile and will be deployed to areas where the local hospitals sustained severe damage.

In addition, the agency has produced guidelines on how to ensure that mobile field hospitals can be most effective and not place an undue burden on local health authorities.

“Mobile field hospitals will make a contribution if they are requested by the national health authorities; they can be quickly dispatched and set up without draining resources at the local level; and if they require only minimal support from the community itself,” it stated.

In a related development, it was reported today that the headquarters of the UN’s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), located in the capital, Santiago, suffered no serious structural damage, but parts of the main building continue to pose a security risk for staff members.

As such, staff whose offices are in good condition will return to work tomorrow, while the remaining staff will return gradually as repairs advance and staff safety is ensured.


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