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Last Updated: Sunday, 2 January, 2005, 18:43 GMT
UN urges aid for tsunami orphans
Homeless father and daughter in Aceh refugee camp, Indonesia
Families still intact are often without homes and basic facilities
The United Nations children's agency has urged special attention for child victims of the Indian Ocean disaster, saying thousands need protection.

"It is hard to imagine the fear, confusion and desperation of children who have seen enormous waves wash away their worlds," said the head of Unicef.

Carol Bellamy was speaking on a tour of countries hit by the massive waves.

Sri Lanka, where children account for 40% of the known death toll, has made an appeal for child counsellors.

Its government called for doctors, psychologists and paediatricians to come forward to give counselling to the large numbers of children left without parents.

"More than the physical health, the mental health is very necessary because people have been so much traumatised by this event," said Health Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva.

In all, about one million people were directly affected by the tsunami in Sri Lanka, many of them children.

Grief on the shore

Unicef has estimated that about one third of those killed across the region were children and Ms Bellamy, on a tour of the Sri Lankan coast on Sunday, spoke of the desolation of bereaved parents who come to the shore to gaze at the sea.

Tsunami-orphaned baby cries on arrival at Jakarta airport, Indonesia
soap for washing hands
plastic sheeting to lay on the ground
razor blade for cutting umbilical cord and string to tie it
cloth to wrap baby in

"They believe their kids are alive and the sea will return them - one day," she said after visiting Navalady Beach.

"I have never seen such a tragedy like this. They don't want to accept their children are dead."

Unicef is preparing a national programme in Sri Lanka to match orphans with grieving parents.

Its local representative, Ted Chaiban, said the first priority was for children without parents to stay with their extended family or relatives.

"We are going to make sure they stay alive and we want to make sure that they have a future," said Carol Bellamy.

Children are at risk across the Indian Ocean, in differing ways:

  • Sri Lankan children face the additional threat of plastic landmines dislodged by the tidal waves; there have also been reports of sexual abuse of children in refugee camps

  • In India, aid agencies have expressed concern that orphans are being split among relatives eager to receive the money promised for tsunami survivors

  • In Aceh, Indonesia, reports speak of children dying of pneumonia after inhaling contaminated water.

The UN population agency (Unfpa) estimates that there could be about 150,000 pregnant women in tsunami-hit areas.

"The damage to health facilities and loss of basic delivery care supplies has jeopardised their chances to deliver under clean and safe circumstances," Unfpa said.

The agency said it was supplying basic maternity and hygiene kits for women to the value of $3m. These feature soap for washing hands, a piece of plastic sheeting to lay on the ground, a clean razor blade for cutting the umbilical cord and a piece of string for tying it, and a cloth to wrap the baby in.

Aid arriving by plane to Banda Aceh, Indonesia


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