The United Nations is rushing food, water purification tablets, cash and other forms of assistance to Peru following last night's powerful earthquake which struck south of the capital, Lima.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that 450 people have lost their lives in earthquake, measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale, whose epicentre was 161 kilometres away from Lima.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today expressed his deep sadness at learning of the deaths and destruction resulting from the quake and pledged continued assistance to those affected, his spokesperson Michele Montas said in a statement.
“The United Nations is in close contact with the Government of Peru and stands ready to support relief efforts with measures, including the release of emergency funds and the deployment of a team of disaster assessment and coordination experts,” she added.
At least 1,500 people have been injured and nearly 400 homes destroyed by the tremors which had a depth of 30 km, OCHA noted. Hotels, health centres and hospitals have been affected, and in some areas, electricity and communications have been impacted.
OCHA and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) announced today that they had released two grants totalling $200,000 to provide immediate relief in the earthquake's aftermath.
Nearly $1 million has been mobilized among several UN agencies on the ground, and a UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) and search-and-rescue teams are on standby to assist, UN Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator Margareta Wahlström told reporters at UN Headquarters today.
On the part of the Peruvian Government, which has declared a state of emergency in the Department of Ica, “there is a well-organized search-and-rescue effort and lots of resources being put into place,” she said.
As a disaster-prone country, Peru is “quite well-endowed with its own resources” and has “strong capacity nationally.”
However, Ms. Wahlström added that “we stand ready, of course, to put more resources into Peru.”
The Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator said that given the “total” destruction of houses in some areas, it is likely that the numbers of deaths and injuries will climb.
In a related development, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) announced today that following a request for assistance from the Peruvian Government, it will provide $500,000 worth of urgently-needed food relief to victims of the country's earthquake.
The supplies – which will be distributed by PRONAA, the national programme for food assistance – are part of in-country stocks the agency uses for its development work.
“These food-stocks have enabled us to respond in just over 12 hours' time which means that we are hopefully off to a good start in alleviating some of the suffering and devastation unleashed by this disaster,” said WFP Country Director Guy Gauvreau.
“We need to act as quickly as possible because the situation is already bad and we still don't know the full extent of the damage in all the outlying areas,” he added.
The agency said it also stands ready to send up to 130 metric tons of high energy biscuits by air or overland transport from its sub-regional emergency hub in Ecuador.
“We fear the death toll could increase and that many survivors will need immediate assistance until the local infrastructure and distribution systems are restored,” Mr. Gauvreau said.
Meanwhile, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) Representative in Peru, Guido Cornale, expressed concern at the increasing number of casualties and announced that the agency will rush aid to those affected. “The United Nations' organizations in Peru are coordinating their response. UNICEF will be distributing water-purification tablets, water containers, oral rehydration salts and water tanks with a 10,000-liter capacity,” he said.
One challenge relief workers could potentially face is difficult road conditions. Initial reports indicated that parts of the Pan-American Highway were damaged, while road conditions in more remote areas are still not fully known.