Secretary-General Kofi Annan phoned United States President George W. Bush today to reiterate his offer of United Nations aid for the recovery from Hurricane Katrina, while the world body’s entire emergency relief system went on standby for a possible request for help in the huge disaster.
As of now UN agencies are ready to provide water storage tanks, water purification tablets, high-energy biscuits, generators, planes, tents, and other emergency supplies, as well as experienced staff members.
Mr. Annan’s call followed his statement last night that, although the US is the country in the world best prepared to cope with such a disaster, “the sheer size of this emergency makes it possible that we can supplement the American response with supplies from other countries, or with experience we have gained in other relief operations.”
A UN inter-agency task force, chaired by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), met this morning to determine what resources are available at the moment to aid the relief effort, in anticipation of a possible request for assistance from the US Government.
The task force is composed of representatives from OCHA and the Executive Office of the Secretary-General, as well as the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Food Programme (WFP), the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Beyond the supplies that the agencies are already able to provide, OCHA has also sent out a general alert to the UN Disaster, Assessment and Coordination teams, which are trained to evaluate needs and coordinate aid during natural disasters.
In his statement last night, Mr. Annan said: “The American people – who have always been the most generous in responding to disasters in other parts of the world – have now themselves suffered a grievous blow. I know that I speak for the whole world in offering them my heartfelt sympathy, and any assistance that the United Nations can give.”
UNICEF noted that children had been particularly hard hit. “Our hearts go out to all the victims of this tragedy, especially the children,” UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman said. “All those who are suffering loss and despair should know that the world is with them.”
In Geneva UNICEF told a news briefing that once again it was the most vulnerable people who suffered from the hurricane, and it was estimated that between one third and one quarter of those who had had their lives disrupted were children.
It was too early to quote exact figures, but between 300,000 and 400,000 children were probably homeless, he said. Although their physical needs were mostly provided for, they would need psychological help. Hundreds of schools had been destroyed, damaged, or at least closed, and it would take time before they could open again.