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Solomons province still recovering from 2007 tsunami

By Ednal Palmer

HONIARA, Solomon Islands (Solomon Star, May 19, 2008) - An agreement signed in Gizo on Saturday is good news for children in the Western and Choiseul provinces. It will help rebuild and improve more than 140 schools in the tsunami affected areas of the provinces.

The agreement will secure more than SB$24 million [US$3 million] from the European Union (EU) Stabex 98 funds for a major joint project. The SB$24 million will be made available through the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which will implement the program.

Representatives from the EU, UNICEF and the Government signed at a ceremony in the Western Province capital.

European Union head of delegation, based in Port Moresby, Aldo Dell’Arricia, Planning Minister Steve Abana and UNICEF representative Dr. Isiye Ndombi signed.

The UNICEF Pacific Office, EU, the Government and NZAID are altogether investing SB$60 million for the combined education rehabilitation work.

The funding will enable rebuilding of new and better classrooms, staff houses and improved sanitation.

Western and Choiseul provinces suffered a devastating earthquake and tsunami early April last year, which caused 52 deaths.

An estimated 10,000 people were made homeless and about 18,000 children were kept from school for the remainder of the year.

UNICEF Pacific Islands representative Ndombi said, "The education rehabilitation program is not only aimed at rebuilding schools, but schools with much improved buildings and sanitation than the affected communities had before."

Ndombi said that experience garnered from similar natural disasters around the world by UNICEF enables it to effectively implement the work.

"The discussion I had with the team that will be working on the rehabilitation process left me confident that we shall deliver the project well," he said.

Mr. Abana thanked the EU and UNICEF for the positive role they are playing in ensuring the children have new and improved facilities.

He said, "We are very thankful and pleased with the level of partnership and willingness of our partners to support the government and local communities in rebuilding their lives."

Western Province Premier Alex Lokopio expressed deep gratitude to the EU and UNICEF for recognizing children and their right to proper education.

"Children are future assets of this country and the much needed funding is not only timely but will serve more generations in many years ahead," he said.

The premier also thanked the EU and UNICEF for organizing the signing ceremony in Gizo.

"I have heard of many assistances for the victims, but never seen such signing undertakings," he said.

He said that EU is the first partner to recognize the importance of holding such a signing at the place that hosts most of the victims.

Mr. Dell’Arricia said that the cooperation agreement is indicative of EU’s ongoing practical support to the people of Solomon Islands.

"The assistance also demonstrate our commitment to partner with organizations like UNICEF to respond actively to the needy people," he said.

After the signing ceremony the visiting group went to Gizo’s Titiana village, which was hit hard by the tsunami.

They told the village’s people, who are still in temporary camps in the hills, of the project.

Education Secretary Donald Malasa urged them to prepare as implementing of the project would require community help.

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