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UN Children's Agency to Reach out to 1 Mln Quake Victims

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The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) is providing emergency education and water services for 1 million Chilean children and their families in the wake of the powerful earthquake that struck the south American nation on Feb. 27, UN officials said Friday.

A tsunami inundated part of the coastline, wiping out entire villages, following the magnitude-8.8 earthquake. Parts of Chile were rocked by a strong aftershock on Thursday.

The official death toll is just over 500, with six regions -- home to 80 percent of the country's population -- having been declared as "catastrophe zones."

Some of the hardest hit areas are also the poorest parts of Chile. Roads have been cut off, while government buildings, schools, health facilities and at least half a million homes have been destroyed or badly damaged.

"As in any disaster, children are the ones suffering most," since they are especially vulnerable to cold, hunger and disease, said Gary Stahl, the UNICEF representative in Chile.

"Their lives have been brutally disrupted and many of them will have difficulty coping with such an upheaval," Stahl said. "We must help them now."

The UN agency is appealing for US$3.5 million to meet the immediate and medium-term needs, including psychosocial support, of women and children.

UNICEF is working closely with President Sebastian Pinera, who was sworn in Thursday, the officials said.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who visited Chile last weekend, stressed that member states must help the nation, which he said has been very generous in helping Haiti rebuild during its time of need after it was struck by a catastrophic earthquake in January.

Ban said that he has asked John Holmes, the UN under-secretary- general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, to ensure there is coordinated support both in the emergency phase after the quake and in terms of longer-range disaster management.

He also tasked Helen Clark, the administrator of the UN Development Program (UNDP), to work closely with the Chilean government, the World Bank and others to launch a post-disaster needs assessment.

(Xinhua News Agency March 13, 2010)


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