Babies delivered in open air ward in Solomons following tsunami

Associated Press • Apr 7, 2007 at 9:48 AM

GIZO, Solomon Islands - As flies buzzed around a basket of bloody gauze, Moana Saito nursed her newborn daughter, delivered Saturday in an open air maternity ward near the epicenter of the Solomon Islands' earthquake and tsunami disaster.

Swaddled in tie-dyed muslin, the baby rested in Saito's arms as she recovered on a wooden cot under a blue tarpaulin stretched over a metal clothes line.

"It's lucky it's not raining," said the attending nurse, Vaelin Gagahe, who delivered Saito's baby. The nurse has delivered three babies in two days at the makeshift network of tarpaulins and tents that sprung up to replace Gizo's hospital, partially destroyed by Monday's tsunami.

Health officials warn that without proper sanitation, the number of child deaths in the disaster zone could rise significantly. Unhygienic conditions and a lack of clean water have contributed to isolated cases of diarrhea and dysentery in some refugee camps, and international aid workers were scrambling to dig latrines and set up water purifiers.

Earlier this week, the United Nations warned that up to 30,000 children could be affected by the disaster, including 15,000 under the age of five.

"These children are highly vulnerable to hunger, disease and the disruption of their normal lives and protective social systems, and require urgent lifesaving assistance to survive," the U.N. said in a statement.

Saito's husband, a ship captain, was helping to unload relief supplies from a boat that arrived in Gizo early Saturday and had not yet seen his daughter - the couple's first surviving child. They had a boy in 2004, but he died shortly after birth.

The 23-year-old mother went into labor just before dawn in the hillside camp where she and hundreds of others have taken refuge away from their low-lying homes, many of which were badly damaged by the 8.1 magnitude quake and the killer waves that followed.

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