A week after a powerful earthquake in the Pacific Ocean triggered a series of tsunamis that devastated a chain of islands in the region, the United Nations today reported that thousands remain homeless and warned against the heightened risk of outbreaks of disease.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that around 3,200 Samoans have been forced from their homes, while the death toll stands at 137 people, with 310 injured and six still missing in the aftermath of the 8.0 magnitude earthquake on the ocean bed.
OCHA said that assessments by the Samoan Red Cross (SRC) indicate that the 29 September earthquake, with its epicentre 190 kilometres south of the Samoan capital of Apia, sent waves crashing down on 40 villages along the south-eastern coast, completely destroying 20 of them.
The Government estimated the cost of damage to infrastructure, including public and private properties, amounts to around $150 million as it downgraded the situation in the South Pacific island from a “state of disaster” to a “state of emergency.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) said that UN agencies are conducting a comprehensive needs assessment and coordinating with the Government to develop a plan for reconstruction and recovery, and that the health surveillance system is in place and reporting daily.
The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is on the ground in Samoa to meet the urgent needs of the estimated 9,000 affected children, 2,000 of whom are thought to be displaced.
“From experience, UNICEF knows that in an emergency, children are the most affected,” said UNICEF Pacific Representative, Isiye Ndombi. “It is therefore essential they have access to clean water, proper sanitation facilities, are protected from vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles and are able to resume education.”
The team arrived in Apia at the end of last week with thousands of emergency supply sets of oral re-hydration salts, water purification tablets and promotional materials on basic health practices in emergencies. At the weekend UNICEF managed to fly in early childhood development kits and recreational kits.
For its part the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) has flown several hundred personal hygiene dignity kits into Samoa to be distributed to women and girls with more to follow later in the week. The agency also plans to send supplies to ensure hygienic births in homes and community centres, as well as equipment for deliveries at health centres, depending on need.
WHO also voiced concern over the increased of risk of vector-borne diseases, health risks to displaced persons in affected areas and problems caused by the absence of waste disposal and sanitation in the Samoan and Tongan islands.
A total of nine people died on the Tongan island of Niuatoputapu and more than 300 people were left homeless as a result of the tsunami, which destroyed 80 houses and seriously damaged another 56, OCHA reported.
OCHA said that shelter and water top the list of needs for the survivors. WHO reported that a clean water supply has been restored and sufficient food supplies are available on the island. UNFPA is in the process of supplying dignity kits to victims, along with medical supplies and equipment for the hospital that was destroyed on Niuatoputapu.
UN Development Programme (UNDP) Director for the Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery, Jordan Ryan, is slated to arrive in Samoa today to examine the tsunami damage and meet with the Prime Minister and Minister of Environment after concluding a two-day visit to Tonga, where he assessed the need for additional support for the country’s recovery efforts.
The Government is also expected to conduct an assessment mission today to consider lifting the state of emergency in Niuatoputapu.