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UN:  Sanitation a Critical Concern for Tsunami Survivors

The U.N. Children's Fund says the sanitation situation is particularly worrying in Indonesia. It says about one-half million homeless tsunami survivors are living in 622 camps. And, in some areas of Aceh Province, it says only one in 1,000 people has access to a toilet.

UNICEF spokesman, Damien Personnaz, says it has been raining in the region for the past few weeks. Not only is the rain continuing, but, he says, it is increasing and this is making an already bad situation in the overcrowded camps worse.

"It is extremely difficult to dig latrines," he said. "It is very difficult to install them in these grounds. They have been totally flooded. These camps have been flooded since basically two weeks which prompted the government of Indonesia to relocate 21 camps … The use of toilets is not something which these people in this specific province were used to. They were used to live in makeshift villages and so on. So, they do not really know how to use the latrines properly. And in these camps, the situation is becoming very quickly, very difficult."

UNICEF says the emergency facilities are over-stretched, and construction of new toilets is not keeping up with the need. It says conditions are becoming increasingly miserable and the deteriorating sanitary situation is leaving people defenseless against disease.

Mr. Personnaz says children, who make up about one-third of the tsunami victims, are particularly vulnerable to water-borne diseases, such as cholera and diarrhea.

"We had already two cases of hemorrhagic dysentery which is a very serious disease affecting children," he said. "So, two cases which meant actually two children died already. This disease can spread extremely quickly in overcrowded camps. So, we are very much concerned and we are following up the situation. We hope that it will not degenerate into a major epidemic."

UNICEF reports heavy rains also have worsened the sanitation situation in Sri Lanka's 450 camps. It says all camp inhabitants have access to safe water, but only 35 percent have access to safe sanitation. It says some camps are flooded and many toilets are full and in need of emptying.

But Mr. Personnaz notes the risk of disease in Sri Lankan camps is lessening. He says, this is because, unlike in Indonesia, more and more people in Sri Lanka are leaving the camps and returning to their homes or villages.