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Children Especially Vulnerable in Somalia After Tsunami, Says UNICEF

UNICEF, the UN children’s agency, is among those providing aid to Somalia following the tsunami. Bob McCarthy is UNICEF’s Somali emergency officer. From Nairobi, he spoke to English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua about conditions in the country following the late December disaster.

He says, “We recognize how bad conditions are in Somalia, in terms of child survival in particular. Somalia is one of the world’s poorest countries and it has been suffering the consequences of over a decade of no central authority and unfortunately, a tremendous amount of instability. As a result, children are especially vulnerable in Somalia. It has the world’s sixth highest level of child mortality, which places it really among the most difficult survival conditions for children.”

Like in Asia, the tsunami came without warning in Somalia. The UNICEF official says, “They were caught unaware. They lost their homes. They lost their means of survival, I mean, again most of them being fishermen, being fishing communities. And their remoteness was compounded by the very surprise circumstances that they faced.” Relief efforts in Somalia have centered on a northeastern coastal strip between Hafun and Garad, about 600 kilometers in length.

Mr. McCarthy says, “About 50,000 people have been affected in one form or another. And UNICEF, so far, has directly assisted about 900 families in these areas. We’ve concentrated our efforts on those who have been the victims of their homes being damaged, or destroyed. Where health services are largely non-existent. Where water sources have been contaminated and damaged by the waves.”

He says in the fishing town of Hafun, near the tip of the Horn of Africa, “people were I think initially quite traumatized by the consequences of the tsunami. They had moved to higher ground, were confused, just totally overwhelmed by the circumstances of the waves. It was fortunate that UNICEF and some other agencies, including the World Food Program, were able to come in within 48 hours and try to begin stabilizing the situation."

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