UNICEF and partners prepare for Hurricane Tomas
By Ben Steinlechner
PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI, 4 November 2010 – After the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti last January coupled with a cholera epidemic ravaging the country for the last two weeks, Tropical Storm Tomas now seems likely to threaten the most vulnerable of the Haitian population, its children.
UNICEF and partners have been working around the clock responding to the challenges of the island’s first cholera epidemic, which has now claimed more than 442 lives and has stretched medical services dealing with more than 6,742 Haitians hospitalized by the disease.
“Haiti’s children have suffered one disaster after on top of another this year,” says Trayle Kulshan, UNICEF’s Wash Cluster Coordinator for Cholera Response who is working on storm preparations in the Artibonite area and other regions outside of Port au Prince.
“Even if the tropical storm doesn’t hit Haiti directly, we are concerned that there will be flooding and that some towns and villages will be difficult to reach. Flooding also has the potential to increase the number of cholera cases,” explains Kulshan.
“The key to saving lives in this challenging environment is educating children and caregivers about how to prepare for the imminent storm. With this, and our supplies prepositioned, we can only hope that Tropical Storm Tomas will not be as severe as predicted,” she says.
”Even without the effects of the tropical storm, it is still logistically challenging getting basic cholera response supplies such as aquatabs, soap, and oral rehydration salts to the Artibonite region.”
With the current storm predictions, people living in the most severely cholera affected areas in the Artibonite region including St Marc may be some of the hardest hit and the hardest to reach. In preparation, UNICEF has prepositioned additional health, nutrition, water, sanitation, and hygiene supplies, including essential drugs, therapeutic foods, buckets, soap, tarpaulins, water bladders, and chlorine purification powder, for Grande Anse, South and Southeast departments of this Caribbean nation, areas which risk being isolated due to heavy rain.
These emergency supplies are in addition to all-ready prepositioned storm response stocks that have been depleted as a result of the unanticipated outbreak of cholera in the Artibonite region north of the capital.
“Right now, UNICEF and other humanitarian actors are responding to a range of complex emergencies including the earthquake, the cholera outbreak, and now the concern that the tropical storm will bring heavy rain and flooding,” says Kulshan.
UNICEF and UN partners WHO, WFP, and UNOCHA are working with the Haitian government to develop plans for worst case scenarios, which could include floodwaters contaminating waters systems and distribution points spreading the cholera to parts of Haiti that haven’t been affected until now.
“Given this, it will be critical to ensure that the provision of clean safe water is prioritised,” adds Kulshan.
UNICEF and partners have established a cholera response in the Artibonite region and have provided local health centres with life saving medical supplies in Saint Michel de l’Attalaye, Drouin and Dessalines. UNICEF has also supported the rapid supply of liquid chlorine from local producers in the south of Haiti to the Artibonite region to provide safe water to schools and health centers.
Aqua tabs, soap and oral rehydration salts have been distributed by UNICEF’s partners reaching some 88,000 people and have piggy backed on key hygiene promotion messages shared through cell phones and hygiene promoters focusing on cholera prevention, including hand washing demonstrations.