UNICEF Chief: Crisis Acute in Quake-Ravaged S. Asia

UNICEF chief Ann Veneman recently returned from the quake-ravaged areas of Pakistan, where the official death toll now stands at 73,000 — half of those victims children. Madeleine Brand talks with Veneman about the children who died in the earthquake, and the continuing plight of the survivors.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

The United Nations may be forced to scale back aid delivery flights to earthquake-ravaged South Asia if it doesn't get more donations. That's according to the Associated Press today. More than 73,000 people died in Pakistan following last month's quake in the Kashmir region. Tens of thousands more are injured or threatened by disease. I spoke earlier with the head of UNICEF, Ann Veneman, who recently returned from the region. She says about half of the dead are believed to be children.

Ms. ANN VENEMAN (Executive Director, UNICEF): First of all, the area was just absolutely devastated. I mean, several-story buildings--schools that fell completely down, killing hundreds of students and teachers. We visited one community where 10 percent of the teachers in the community had been killed. Hospitals were completely flattened, killing patients and killing health-care workers. We heard numbers such as 50 percent of the health-care workers in certain communities were killed, including all of the doctors in one small community. A lot of the hospitals now are being operated in tents. There's a need to get good, clean water in there and sanitation facilities. The international community is also conducting health clinics in these kinds of camps, including inoculations for children, measles in particular, tetanus.

In addition, there is a social work aspect to this where people are both registering children, particularly children whose parents may have died, but most children are with extended family; most are found to be accompanied by someone who is in a family structure.

BRAND: So there aren't as many orphans as you might think.

Ms. VENEMAN: Well, there are orphans. What they've found, though, in visiting with families is, for example, I visited with a woman who had a small child who was in a half-body cast from the waist down, and we started talking about her family. She lost in the earthquake four of her six children. This little one was in a half-body cast. So you saw many families where part of the family was gone. They had lost several children, they'd lost brothers, they'd lost sisters, they'd lost aunts or uncles. And I know there will be many orphans from this, but most of the family structure in Pakistan is such that the extended family reaches out, and so most of these children do have some family left to still take care of them.

BRAND: And winter is approaching, and it gets very cold there. Are you afraid that more children will die?

Ms. VENEMAN: Absolutely. And some of the things that are most important to prevent additional child deaths are keeping up the immunization programs, making sure that they have shelter, making sure that there is clean water and sanitation, because diarrheal diseases can be a very large component of a health-care issue for children. So all of these issues, all of these interventions are critical if we are going to avoid additional lives lost as a result of this disaster.

BRAND: And what can people do to help, regular people, ordinary citizens? What can they do to help?

Ms. VENEMAN: Well, I think donating money is the most important thing. A year when we have had so many crises--we've had a tsunami; we've had Katrina; we've had other hurricanes. The public, I think, has gotten a little weary of donating to all of these huge disasters that we've seen. But I can tell you that the people of Pakistan are in need of additional resources, and I would encourage people to donate on their behalf.

BRAND: Ann Veneman is the executive director of UNICEF. She spoke to us from New York.

Thank you very much.

Ms. VENEMAN: Thank you.

BRAND: Stay with us on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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