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In wake of Hurricane Tomas, flooding increases disease risk in Haiti

2010-11-07
UNICEF Image
© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-2419/Dormino
Streets are flooded in the aftermath of Hurricane Tomas in Gonaïves.

By Ben Steinlechner

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, 8 November 2010 – Residents of Haiti are assessing the impact of Hurricane Tomas, which this past weekend came perilously close to adding even greater misery to a nation already reeling from the impacts of the recent cholera outbreak and the 12 January earthquake.

In the aftermath of the storm, UNICEF is now conducting on-site assessments to prepare for additional allocations of supplies and human resources in the most affected areas. Flooding greatly heightens the risk of the spread of waterborne diseases such as cholera, which has already claimed the lives of more than 520 Haitians and hospitalized over 7,400.

Increased vulnerability

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-2419/Dormino
A small child walks at the edge of an area covered with standing water in the Mais Gate camp for people displaced by the January earthquake in Port-au-Prince.

UNICEF is especially concerned about the impact of flooding in the north-west of the country, the epicentre of the cholera outbreak. The city of Gonaïves, located in the stricken area, was severely flooded by the storm, increasing its vulnerability to cholera.

Christopher Jean-Felix, 8, a young resident of the Mais Gate camp for people displaced by the earthquake in Port-au-Prince, the capital, said he worried about the storm forcing water into the temporary shelter that has been his home since January.

"My tent has already been flooded several times," said Christopher, one of an estimated 1.3 million Haitians who have been living in displacement camps since the earthquake. "When it floods, everything gets wet – my clothes, too," he added. "I can't sleep when it rains."

Despite his tenuous living conditions, Christopher is lucky that his family's tent was not lashed by hurricane-force wind and torrential rains, as most people here had feared. Other displaced residents in flood-prone parts of Haiti were not as fortunate.

UNICEF provides support

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-2419/Dormino
At the airport in Port-au-Prince, workers unload UNICEF emergency medical supplies in response to the cholera outbreak and Hurricane Tomas.

Hurricane winds and water caused flooding in Haiti's five southern departments and in other regions – including Artibonite, Centre, North West and the communities of Léogane and Gressier, west of Port-au-Prince.

Heavy rains and severe flooding have occurred in upper Artibonite, with as much as a metre of standing water reported in the hardest-hit sections of Gonaïves, north of the Artibonite River. Large parts of the city of Léogane have also been flooded by overflowing river water, affecting approximately 15 camps that shelter thousands of people.

In preparation, UNICEF had pre-positioned medical, sanitation and nutrition supplies throughout Haiti's flood-endangered areas. These supplies – jerry cans, soap, Aquatabs for water purification and buckets for 900 families – "now allows us to immediately assist those affected by the hurricane," said UNICEF's Ben Harvey, Deputy Coordinator of the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene cluster. "But we'll be assessing what the needs are beyond these immediate supplies."

Prepared for the worst

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-2419/Dormino
As Hurricane Tomas approaches Haiti, residents reinforce their shelter with additional tarpaulin sheeting in the Mais Gate camp for people displaced by the quake.

In response to the approaching hurricane late last week, some displaced families used their savings to buy wood and reinforce the tents where they have been living since the earthquake destroyed their homes. Neighbours worked together dismantling unstable tents in order to replace the support poles with stronger ones.

"The wood to reinforce our tents is very expensive," said Peterson Montinat," a resident of Mais Gate camp. "Not all the families can afford it, and we are not even sure it helps much."

Another camp resident, Jerry Templar Blanchard, 17, gazed down at the putrid brown water flowing in ditches around tents. "I'm very happy that there was no major flooding here," he said. "I am a scared of cholera. We didn't have any cases in the camp so far, but it could happen any day."

To support UNICEF's emergency efforts, please donate to the Haiti earthquake relief fund.

For further information:

Stefanie Carmichael, Communications Specialist, (416) 482-6552 ext. 8866; Cell: (647) 500-4230, scarmichael@unicef.ca.
Tiffany Baggetta, Director, Communications and Brand, (416) 482-6552 ext. 8892; Cell: (647) 308-4806, tbaggetta@unicef.ca.

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