NEW YORK, USA, 19 April 2010 – High altitude is creating an obstacle for rescue teams delivering supplies to people affected by the 7.1-magnitude earthquake that struck Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in north-west China’s Qinghai Province on 14 April.
Approximately 200 rescuers have been forced to leave the area due to altitude sickness. Despite the obstacles, UNICEF has been working to send relief items, including school tents, blankets and warm children’s clothing.
The earthquake hit hard in poor and remote Jiegu town on the 4,000-metre-high Tibetan plateau. About 85 per cent of the town’s buildings were toppled. Now, local children and families face immediate danger from the cold weather.
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Protecting the displaced
In a telephone interview with UNICEF Radio, UNICEF China Chief of Communications Dale Rutstein said the altitude and temperatures have made the situation difficult for earthquake victims and rescuers alike.
“It goes from moderate during the day to below freezing at night,” he explained. “Hundreds or thousands of people are sleeping outside right now. A huge percentage of the homes and structures are destroyed, and it’s not a good place to be sleeping out without a lot of protection.”
About 50 per cent of the children in the county attend boarding schools, and many school buildings have been severely damaged. Because the earthquake struck just before 8 a.m., however, many students had left their dorm rooms but had not yet begun classes.
Mr. Rutstein said he suspects the timing helped decrease the number of casualties. In addition, he said, “This is a fairly sparsely populated area.”
‘Return to normalcy’
According to local education authorities, 80 per cent of primary schools and 50 per cent of secondary schools in Yushu have been severely damaged, affecting more than 23,000 students.
“Schools in the affected area have suffered extensive damage, and we will support the government’s efforts to ensure that transitional facilities are set up,” said UNICEF’s Representative in China, and Chair of the UN Disaster Management Team, Dr. Yin Yin Nwe.
“Following disasters such as this, it is important that children can return to normalcy as soon as possible,” she added. “We have evidence from the Sichuan earthquake [of 2008] that going back to school with appropriate psycho-social support helps children recover.”
At the request of the authorities, UNICEF is preparing to supply 2,000 children’s winter boots, 5,000 student kits and shoulder bags, and 500 blackboards – as well as ambulances, generators and medical equipment – in the earthquake zone.
The Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs is also playing a major role in the disaster response, sending tents, winter clothes, quilts and other emergency supplies to the region.
The disaster occurred in a quake-prone region. About 97 per cent of the area’s population is Tibetan.