18 May 2008The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is rushing to send emergency relief supplies to the centre of China’s Sichuan province, the area most devastated by last Monday’s catastrophic earthquake. The first aid, comprising 1,000 tents, 15,000 blankets and 60,000 school kits, are expected to arrive in quake-affected areas over the next 24 hours, UNICEF reported today from Beijing, with medicines, water, sanitation materials and health equipment to follow soon after.Yin Yin Nwe, UNICEF Representative in China, said the agency staff were doing their utmost to help Chinese authorities to care for and protect children affected by the massive temblor.“It is truly encouraging to see how the whole country has rallied in support of the Government’s relief response,” Dr. Nwe said, adding that the relief situation had become critical.“We need to move as fast as possible, with no delays, to speed life-saving medicines, vaccinations, water purification tablets, oral rehydration salts, obstetrics and surgical kits, water containers and the like. Families trying to cope will require basic materials like collapsible water containers, soap [and] tarpaulins to survive after losing everything.”The UN World Health Organization (WHO) has stressed that preventing outbreaks of communicable diseases has become the key public health issue, and it is working closely with the national health ministry to offer aid, supplies and guidance.“The main needs now are water, sanitation and food,” said WHO’s Representative to China, Hans Troedsson. “Ensuring supply of food and safe drinking water and trying to restore good sanitation are critical because these are the basic transmission routes for communicable diseases.”Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced in a statement on Friday that up to $7 million will be released from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to support UN relief efforts.State media reports that the official death toll has risen to 28,881, with some 14,000 others still trapped under debris and rubble and more than 198,000 others injured. An estimated 3.3 million homes have been destroyed and 15.6 million others have been partially damaged.The quake measured 7.8 on the Richter scale when it struck south-western China on Monday afternoon, just before 2:30 local time. At least 4,400 aftershocks have since been recorded, including 146 measuring 4 or higher on the Richter scale.