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UNICEF: Sri Lankan Children Coping with Disaster


The head of the U.N. Children's Fund in Sri Lanka has hailed as a success, relief efforts following December 26 tsunami that swept across the Indian Ocean. But he warns that much work remains to be done, especially in helping children cope with the trauma of the disaster.

UNICEF's chief in Sri Lanka, Ted Chaiban, says that in the aftermath of the deadly tsunami, Sri Lanka has been largely successful at protecting children from health threats associated with humanitarian crises.

"As far as we know from government monitoring, as well as our own monitoring on the ground, not a single child has died from disease such as measles and diarrhea that are normally associated with mass displacement," he said. "And this has happened at a time where normally you would have an increase in the number of cases of diarrhea."

Mr. Chaiban attributes that to a campaign of immunizations across the country and close monitoring by Sri Lanka's Ministry of Health.

Millions of dollars in aid has poured into Sri Lanka since the December 26 tsunami killed more than 30,000 people in the country.

UNICEF has distributed 25,000 emergency household kits to families who lost their homes to the tsunami, to help them cope in refugee camps. In addition, it is providing what it calls "school in a box" kits, with teaching materials to help students and teachers start classes again.

More than 300 schools were damaged, destroyed or turned into shelters for people made homeless by the tsunami. That leaves more than 200,000 children out of school, a problem Mr. Chaiban says could worsen the effects of the tragedy.

"The reason we are placing so much importance on education is that education is a tool to reduce trauma in children," he noted. "After the physical infrastructure has been rebuilt, after we have patched up the schools and the health centers, the consequences that are going to last the longest are the psycho-social consequences."

UNICEF has sent more than 200 psychological counselors to help treat affected children.

The agency also worries that the tragedy could increase rates of child trafficking or the recruitment of children by Tamil rebels that have used thousands of child soldiers in the past.

UNICEF's preliminary findings reveal that of the more than 4,000 children who lost one or both parents to the tsunami, it knows of only five cases of child trafficking or recruitment from refugee camps.

There was no immediate comment on the allegation from the Tamil rebels, but the group in the past has denied forcibly recruiting children.

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