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Algerian Earthquake

Volume 406: debated on Thursday 5 June 2003

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An earthquake measuring 6.7 on the Richter Scale hit the northern coast of Algeria at 19:44 local time (18:44 GMT) on 21 May 2003. There were a number of aftershocks. The most powerful (on 27 May) caused further building collapse and some deaths and injuries. According to the latest reports from the Algerian Interior Ministry, 2,268 people have died as a result of the earthquake, while those injured number over 10,100. Preliminary estimates are that up to 200,000 people have been rendered homeless by the earthquake.Telecommunications were widely disrupted. However, to date, some 80 per cent. of the damage has been repaired. The undersea telephone cables between Algeria and Europe were also damaged. Damage to public buildings is still being assessed; of those so far examined, only some 10 per cent. are beyond repair, and 75 per cent. have been declared safe. The United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination Team (UNDAC) has advised that purification of water is now adequately covered, but distribution of potable water remains a problem. Sanitation systems and electrical generation and distribution systems are under repair by the authorities.With the initial search and rescue phase over, people whose houses have been destroyed or become unsafe to live in require short-term relief assistance, including shelter, food and water, emergency relief items like blankets, kitchen sets, hygiene kits, and water jerry cans. Some specific needs will arise as a consequence of regrouping homeless people in temporary tented camps that will have to be equipped with adequate sanitary facilities. In the medium to long-term, significant rehabilitation work will have to be carried out to repair infrastructure damage, re-establish the water supply system and provide permanent housing for those made homeless by the earthquake. On 30 May, the Algerian government approved plans to build new homes for 80,000 people left homeless.Following news of the earthquake UK Search and Rescue (SAR) Teams were placed on standby. 95 SAR personnel and 7 search dogs, supported by two DFID Operations Team staff were despatched by DFID funded chartered aircraft the same day. Within the group were teams from the UK Fire Services Search and Rescue Team and the NGOs CANIS Specialist Search Dogs, International Rescue Corps, British International Rescue Dogs and Rescue and Preparedness in Disasters. DFID also supported the UNDAC Team by providing two British members. The flight departed at 23:30 on 22 May, arriving in Algiers at 03:30 the next morning, 23 May 2003. The SAR teams conducted rescue operations in the worst affected towns, in structures in which search dogs or equipment indicated possible survivors. They were also asked to use their sophisticated search equipment and dogs to verify that some previously searched buildings were indeed empty of survivors. During this operation, they found nobody alive.Following the calling-off of the SAR operation by the Government of Algeria, the teams returned to the UK on Monday 26 May 2003. The UNDAC Team continued to support the Government of Algeria in assessing humanitarian needs for a further two days. The full cost of the deployment will be over £100,000.In total, International Search and Rescue Teams eventually numbered over 1,000 personnel and some 75 dogs most have now left Algeria. More than 100 relief flights arrived carrying tents, blankets and plastic sheeting, water purification and distribution equipment, medicines and two field hospitals. These are expected to be largely sufficient to meet immediate and medium term needs. The challenge is to ensure that the aid that has already arrived is distributed efficiently.Support has been provided by a range of donors and non-governmental organisations, a number of United Nations agencies including the United Nations Development Programme and the World Food Programme, and also by the Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement. The European Community Humanitarian Office is planning a response for a period of up to six months to support health and sanitation interventions.DFID made a further emergency contribution of £95,000 on 29 May to the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies which is supporting the Algerian Red Crescent Society in providing shelter items, water and sanitation to those who have been displaced.