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Hurricane Matthew: Worse than expected

Port-au-Prince – With every hour that passes more information about destruction and death is coming in. Every report is directly linked to the life and future of children in Haiti. Over the course of yesterday, following the eventually intensifying stream of updates from partners on the ground I felt darkness creeping up on me – until I remembered that we are moving forward towards relief for children on the ground.

A first UNICEF team made it to the affected South Wednesday afternoon, 24h after Matthew made landfall, and a second mission was on the road yesterday. A truck with emergency supplies left in the morning and should make it to Les Cayes today; it is loaded with chlorine tablets and plastic-sheeting in particular, to ensure access to clean water, and prevent the outbreak of epidemics. One colleague is flying in by helicopter.

To ensure complementarity and efficiency of planning, colleagues on the ground join hands with the multi-sector assessment teams of other agencies; aim is to identify the most pressing needs in the shortest amount of time. Rather than parachuting in what we think fits, the aim is to provide what families actually need now.

Hurricane Matthew

According to witness accounts and authorities damage is worse than we feared. In the South and Grand Anse departments 70 to 80 percent of homes are damaged; 1.3 million people may be directly affected – and one in two of them is a child. There are 140 confirmed deaths and numbers continue to rise as new areas can be accessed. 17,000 people have sought shelter, many of them in schools. While the far West of the island is the worst hit, the South East and North East are also affected.

As the water subsides multiple matters of concern emerge – all rooted in the understanding that children’s rights are not a ‘business’ for smooth times only. Their entitlement to learn, play, eat and be protected weighs just as heavily in an emergency as in ‘normal’ days. And yet…

The heavy wind (up to 140km/h) and flooding, damaged homes, schools, health centers. Basic social services, already fragile before Matthew, are now mostly wiped out.

Trees and crops are gone in many places. It was the harvesting season and Matthew has taken away whatever has grown. After three years of inadequate rainfall this is a drop in the ocean that will likely result in food insecurity and a spike in child malnutrition.

Present in Haiti since 2010, cholera remains an emergency today. Already before Matthew 27,000 cases had been registered, one in three was a child. Flooding and the destruction of already insufficient water & sanitation infrastructure is likely to result in a new increase in cases – and we already heard that the number is on the rise in Artibonite…

Hurricane Matthew

At least 156 schools are being used as shelter, many others are flooded or destroyed. Temporary schools will need to be set-up. Identification of children separated from their families or living in now institutions is underway. Among the 2,000 children that had been evacuated from orphanages during Matthew many have already returned to their places of origin for lack of somewhere else to go…

Every day is a set of steps on the way back to normality. Trying to walk it with the Haitian women, men and children is a privilege.

Thank you & Mesi anpil

Cornelia Walther is Chief of Communications for UNICEF Haiti.