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UNICEF Appeals for Assistance for Vietnam Flood Victims - 2003-11-29

United Nations agencies say hundreds of thousands of people in Vietnam need urgent assistance to rebuild houses and resettle victims of floods that have devastated five provinces in the central part of the country.

Floods are a regular occurrence in Vietnam at this time of year. But United Nations agencies now describe two major storms that buffeted central Vietnam from mid-October to mid-November as the worst since extensive flooding that reached record levels in 1999.

Official figures put the number of deaths this time at more than 100. The storms also have made an estimated 340,000 people, including 130,000 children, homeless.

Damien Personnaz, a spokesman for the U.N. Children's Fund, UNICEF, says the flood victims are in urgent need of assistance.

"They lost everything - their cattle, their houses, where they are going to stay," he said. "Most of them are staying with relatives. Some of them are displaced into so-called shelters and camps, which are not really camps, but public services buildings. They need food. They need shelter. They need blankets."

Mr. Personnaz says other needs include food, seeds for the next planting season, rehabilitation of water supply sources, which were destroyed or contaminated by the floods, and medical supplies to prevent the outbreak of disease.

He says UNICEF is replacing thousands of educational materials that were swept away or damaged by the floods.

He says the Vietnamese government will not allow international agencies to launch a formal appeal for assistance. But he notes the government would welcome additional funding for immediate needs and for longer-term rehabilitative commitments.

"What we are doing is that we are asking for additional funding in order to be able to cope with the situation right now, and also to be able to get prepared the year after in 2004 for these kind of things," Mr. Personnaz explained. "The strategy UNICEF has been doing in the last five years is always to get prepared, in order to be able to respond immediately to the needs."

UNICEF says it will need about $430,000 for flood preparedness activities next year.

Mr. Personnaz says the Vietnamese government has put a very good disaster prevention program in place. Although the death toll this year remains high, he says, the government's early warning system and information campaign have significantly reduced the loss of life caused by these floods.