The massive earthquake in Pakistan and India that has killed tens of thousands also destroyed countless school buildings, some of which had children inside when they collapsed, according to UNICEF officials.
In a statement to the news media, UNICEF’s Executive Director Ann M. Veneman said that the organization’s top priority is to provide children with the means to survive, as thousands have been left homeless by the earthquake.
Officials of the United Nations agency said another immediate priority is reuniting lost children with their families. After emergency relief is provided, they say, reopening schools will be a major goal.
“Beyond immediate relief, our focus is to get children back to school as soon as possible,” Ms. Veneman added. “We are all shocked by the news that children were killed as they sat at their desks. But very quickly it will be time to get those who survived back to their classrooms. School provides the very structure and rhythm that they’ve lost, a touchstone that will help overcome shock and trauma.”
Save the Children—a Westport, Conn.-based relief organization that currently operates health and education programs for thousands of Pakistani children—is also working to get help for children who were injured or left homeless by the earthquake.
“Our initial response will be focused on meeting the immediate needs of children and their families, including providing food, water, medicines, and temporary shelter,” Rudy Von Bernuth, the head of Save the Children USA’s emergency-response team, said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the embassy of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan in Washington was asking the international community for financial help in dealing with what it described as “the worst-ever earthquake in the history of Pakistan.”