Children in earthquake-hit areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan are facing further deadly threats as extreme conditions and insecurity cut off communities from aid.
Around 200 people died, including 12 school girls, and around 1,000 were injured after the 7.5 magnitude tremor struck on Monday evening (ADST) – with half of those affected thought to be children.
Heavy rain and snow have been pounding the remote, mountainous areas affected by the earthquake for the past two days. Communication is poor and access difficult due to the tough terrain and security operations.
“We are extremely concerned for the safety and wellbeing of children, who are already the most at risk in any disaster and are now in danger of succumbing to the elements as temperatures plummet," said Karin Hulshof, UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia.
Some of the areas hit by the quake are completely inaccessible, whilst much of the rest of the affected region is difficult to reach even in ordinary circumstances.
UNICEF Afghanistan and Pakistan are working with their national governments and are prepared to deliver life-saving supplies to tens of thousands of affected children and their families.
UNICEF is warning that health, nutrition, hygiene and education services will now be under exceptional stress, placing more children at risk.
“Just last week we were celebrating the success of our polio program in Afghanistan and Pakistan and heralding a potential to end to polio worldwide,” said UNICEF Australia Chief Executive Officer Norman Gillespie.
“This fear is that this earthquake, arriving as winter starts to bite hard in the region, could close access routes for both humanitarian aid but also for our lifesaving immunisation programs,” he said.
Both Afghanistan and Pakistan are the last two countries where polio is endemic. Ending polio here will end polio worldwide. Dr Gillespie said polio programs were in full swing to reach children with necessary routine immunisation and health care before winter snows closed access to remote villages, like those close to the earthquake’s epicentre.
The region is susceptible to earthquakes, the largest in 2005 killing 73,000 and displacing 3.3 million. Afghanistan too is still recovering from flooding and landslides that in May last year killed almost 700.
UNICEF has been working in Afghanistan since 1949 and is ready to respond with lifesaving emergency interventions for children, should the government need it to.
When disasters strike, UNICEF is ready to:
- Restore life-saving medical services, water and sanitation
- Deliver emergency hygiene and nutritional supplies to families who have lost everything
- Reunite separated children with their parents
- Set up child-friendly spaces to keep children off the streets and away from danger
- Provide counselling and psychosocial support for children suffering profound stress
- Help children back to school and through every step of the long-term recovery.
To keep up to date with UNICEF’s response follow UNICEF Australia on Twitter at @unicefaustralia