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UN rushes aid to flood-beleaguered Bolivians

UN rushes aid to flood-beleaguered Bolivians

In the wake of an appeal by the President of Bolivia for international assistance, United Nations agencies are stepping up aid to people in the country devastated by flooding, hail and freeze which have affected 200,000 and killed more than 20.

The country remains under a National State of Emergency declared on 18 January. Although heavy rains have subsided in the hardest-hit areas of the country, many whose homes were destroyed remain in temporary shelters – mostly schools that themselves are flooded and contaminated as a result, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Further augmenting their presence on the ground, UN agencies are supplying aid and logistical support to assist the Government’s efforts to meet the humanitarian needs of those ravaged by floods.

The UN’s Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team has been conducting surveys in devastated areas and has been helping Government agencies in their coordination efforts with non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Given the importance of clean water and sanitation, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has provided $30,000 for analysis and treatment, and three UNICEF experts are in Bolivia to ensure a clean water supply.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) continues to deliver food, and to date has fed approximately 60,000 people impacted by the rains. WFP has also distributed micronutrient fortified foods targeted mainly at women and children to prevent a nutritional crisis.

Assisting in public health issues, the UN World Health Organization (WHO)/Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has sent medical supplies for 1,000 patients suffering flood-related injuries. The rains have overlapped with an outbreak of dengue fever, yellow fever and malaria in the country, and it is feared that the floods will spread disease.

Bolivia’s rainy season extends from November to March, and the meteorological El Niño phenomenon is blamed for this year’s especially harsh rains and resulting floods.

In another development, the top UN human rights official, Louise Arbour, signed an agreement with the Bolivian Foreign Affairs Minister, David Choquehuanca, yesterday in the capital La Paz to establish an Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in the country. The office will assist Bolivian authorities in promoting and protecting human rights.

“The Bolivia office embodies our strategic vision encompassing increased work at the country level and an enhanced leadership role for OHCHR in advocating better implementation of human rights globally,” the High Commissioner said.

Among other activities, the Office will work to help the Government in improving the justice system and strengthen mechanisms to fight racism and racial discrimination.