United Nations assists Comoros after volcanic eruption

(New York: 2 December): In the wake of the eruption late last week of Comoros' Karthala volcano, the United Nations is assisting national authorities to undertake emergency initiatives to provide clean water, clear away volcanic dust and debris, and assess the damage sustained to agriculture and livestock.
There are concerns about the impact of pollution due to volcanic debris on public health, agriculture and livestock for some 250,000 people living in 76 villages in the areas covered by the ash and smoke. Approximately 175,000 people have inadequate access to clean drinking water due to the contamination of water tanks. Affected populations have also been inhaling volcanic dust since the eruptions, and many - including the elderly and children - are now having trouble breathing freely.

In response, national authorities have prioritized delivering clean water, cleaning water tanks and water analysis; cleaning streets, public facilities and private buildings and preventing dust inhalation; and providing technical expertise for an environmental impact assessment and establishing a system to monitor the impact of the eruption over time.

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) is supporting the Government's delivery of clean water by providing water tanks, fuel for trucks, and financial resources to cover operational costs. An average 200,000 litres of water have been delivered each day. The UNICEF has also supported the cleaning of all schools and is ensuring their water supply. The World Health Organization (WHO) is providing technical expertise for assessments of public health and water and sanitation conditions. The UNOSAT is working to provide accurate satellite images of the Karthala Volcano area in the next days, which will help ascertain the scope of damages. Additionally, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in conjunction with UNICEF and WHO, will provide material support such as computers and office equipment to the National Emergency Operations Centre.

Comoros' Karthala volcano has been erupting since 24 November 2005 with projections of ash and smoke that spread volcanic dust and debris over extensive areas of the Grande Comore Island, including the capital, Moroni. Although the eruptions receded after the initial day's eruptions, the Karthala Volcanological Observatory warns that the level of seismic activity remains high and that a lava lake is forming in the volcano's crater. An eruption of the volcano earlier this year, in mid-April 2005, also led to water contamination. At that time, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) provided an emergency grant of $50,000 for clean up efforts. The United Nations assisted the Government in providing clean water, decontaminating the water supply, and analyzing water quality.

Comoros is an island nation of some 670,000 people in Southern Africa, located at the northern mouth of the Mozambique Channel about two-thirds of the way between northern Madagascar and northern Mozambique.

For further information, please call: Stephanie Bunker, OCHA-New York, +1 917 367 5126, mobile +1 917 892 1679; Kristen Knutson, OCHA-New York, +1 917 367 9262; Elizabeth Byrs, OCHA-Geneva, +41 22 917 2653, mobile +41 79 473 4570.


UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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