At least 940,000 children affected by the devastating earthquake in Nepal are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance
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At least 940,000 children affected by the devastating earthquake in Nepal are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance

At least 940,000 children living in areas severely affected by the devastating earthquake in Nepal are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, says UNICEF.

The 7.9 magnitude earthquake on Saturday and nearly 60 aftershocks caused vast devastation across much of the country, including more than 2,000 deaths and widespread destruction of buildings. The earthquake centred almost exactly on the capital, Kathmandu.

The shock is the most powerful since the Nepal-Bihar quake of 1934 and had been predicted by seismologists for some time. It triggered an avalanche on Mount Everest, killing 17 people in what is the worst incident ever on the world’s highest mountain.

The shock also caused casualties in border areas in China, India and Bangladesh

UNICEF global chief of crisis communication, Sarah Crowe, was in Brussels on Tuesday where she outlined its response to the tragedy. She also talked about other ongoing issues, such as migration.

On Nepal, she said that:

· UNICEF and its partners are planning to reach approximately 2.8m children out of an estimated 7m population in 35 affected districts;

· UNICEF has provided tents to the Ministry of Health and Population to be used at hospitals to assist a large number of injured including children;

· The charity has provided ORS and Zinc to prevent outbreaks of diarrhoeal diseases. Water trucking services are also going to all 16 camps across Kathmandu Valley.

The charity says there have been reports of dwindling supplies of water and food, power outages, and downed communication networks.

She said that hundreds of thousands of people had spent the night sleeping in open areas, out of fear of more tremors. Heavy rain is now also reported which can further worsen the conditions.

“This crisis leaves children particularly vulnerable – limited access to safe water and sanitation will put children at great risk from waterborne diseases, while some children may have become separated from their families.”

UNICEF told this website that it is mobilizing staff and emergency supplies to meet the “urgent” humanitarian needs of children affected by the earthquake, focusing on water and sanitation, nutrition, education and child protection.

The charity also said it is already supporting tankering of water and provision of oral rehydration salts and zinc supplements to people gathered in informal settlements, and providing tents for field medical facilities, using supplies already prepositioned in the country. 

The UNICEF spokesman says it is also readying two cargo flights with a combined 120 tonnes of humanitarian supplies including medical and hospital supplies, tents and blankets, for urgent airlift to Kathmandu.

Meanwhile, a 43-member team from B-Fast, Belgium’s rapid reaction first aid and support unit, has left Melsbroek military airport for Nepal. B-Fast is one of the world’s most experienced rapid response teams, having taken part in disaster relief operations in Haiti in 2010, the Philippines in 2013 and Nigeria last year.

“There are a lot of old hands among them, but the rest have plenty of experience, and they work with the material day in and day out,” said Chris De Pauw, assistant team leader. The team specialises in urban search and rescue and will concentrate its efforts in Kathmandu.

B-Fast travels with 10 tonnes of its own material – everything from bottled water to tents– meaning it remains independent from local authorities. “We are there for first aid and to help find survivors,” said the team’s head of urban search and rescue, adding that it was impossible to say how long the mission would last.

Interior minister Jan Jambon, who saw off the team off, said, “It is extremely important to have all hands on deck when such a disaster hits, wherever in the world it may be. Every hour is crucial, so it’s a good thing we have a group that can react so quickly.”

The initial response will cost the foreign affairs ministry €300,000, based on a 10-day mission.

By Martin Banks