Recent torrential rains, extreme flooding and several large magnitude earthquakes in the Solomon Islands, have affected 52,000 people, of which 26,000 are estimated to be children. In the immediate aftermath of this series of natural disasters, much still needs to be done to aid in the recovery effort and identify gaps that still need to be met. Dennis McKinlay, Executive Director at UNICEF NZ said, "An area of major concern for UNICEF is the continued large numbers of people taking refuge in evacuation centres. Plans are being put in place to consolidate the number of centres by closing smaller centres and shelters currently housed in schools so that they can reopen for classes. This strategy will only be beneficial if the remaining centres have access to sufficient supplies and facilities." "Adequate health care supplies are needed to combat diarrhoea, malaria, dengue fever, respiratory, eye and skin infections. Other major concerns for UNICEF include the availability of counselling services, reports of moderately or acutely malnourished children under five and the general protection of vulnerable people including children and pregnant women." To date, some electricity and water systems have been restored but large numbers of the population remain dependent on emergency water trucks or water purification tablets that need to be replenished. Destroyed or damaged bridges are continuing to limit mobility and access, but repairs have started and detailed assessments in rural Guadalcanal are being carried out to assess the needs outside Honiara. "UNICEF is continuing to work alongside the Solomon Islands Government and partners to provide a coordinated and effective response. While some immediate threats have passed, now is the time when the people of the Solomon Islands will need the most help. Critical ongoing needs continue to be site management of evacuation centres, food, clean water and sanitation and hygiene supplies," Mr McKinlay said. Additional needs identified include blankets, clothing, micro-nutrient powder sachets, zinc, fuel, cooking utensils and school restoration to minimise delays in the resumption of classes. Reinstating water and sanitation facilities in schools is also a priority. Mr McKinlay added, "In Honiara alone, nearly 11,000 continue to take refuge in 33 evacuation centres. Around 4,000 evacuees are thought to be children. Conditions in the centres are still inadequate for the number of people there and access to clean and safe water and toilets in the centres and surrounding areas continues to be the greatest concern." UNICEF has made available its contingency supplies in Honiara consisting of water containers, water purification tablets, soap and hygiene messages. Distribution of collapsible water containers has taken place in Guadalcanal, while WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) kits have been distributed to evacuation centres. UNICEF has also purchased 50,000 bars of soap and additional supplies will be shipped from Vanuatu and other UNICEF depots. Mr McKinlay added, "As those that can begin to return to their homes, many others have been rendered homeless and will be in need of greater help and assistance in the form of government issued ‘return packages’. UNICEF will do all it can to support this process but realises that it will take time and a further coordinated effort." Donations are urgently needed so UNICEF can provide essential supplies and support the emergency relief effort. To donate go to: www.unicef.org.nz/solomon-islands Items such as food and clothing cannot currently be accepted due to the logistical difficulties and costs associated with transporting items to the Solomon Islands.
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