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In early September 2017, Hurricane Irma is wreaking havoc, destruction and damage across the Leeward islands of the Caribbean , including Haiti, where Hurricane Matthew devasted many parts of the country in 2016.
Victoria Maskell, UNICEF staff, reflects on past and present needs for Haiti's children and their families.
In recent years, Haiti has been battered by storms, hurricanes and the devastating impact of the 2010 earthquake. When I arrived in Haiti less than 11 months ago I remember being shown a map. The earthquake had caused huge damage to the centre of Haiti, storm Sandy had rampaged through the north, and Hurricane Matthew had obliterated parts of the south. In short, the whole country had been attacked by the elements, and it looks like Hurricane Irma, currently a category 5 hurricane, is set to sweep across the north of the country. A year ago, Haiti was facing three simultaneous emergencies – Hurricane Matthew, the 2010 earthquake and a large scale cholera outbreak, it looks likely we’re about to add a fourth.
Haiti, and the millions of children and families who live there are incredibly vulnerable. There were several moments during my time in the UNICEF Haiti country office that struck me. Reading the statistic that 100% crops had been destroyed in parts of Grand’Anse and the South. 100%. That’s unimaginable. Watching WASH specialist after WASH specialist arrive, as the fear of cholera went up and up. And looking at that map. Three large blocks of colour – the area destroyed in 2010, the area destroyed in 2012, the area destroyed in 2016. And now, we’re waiting to add a different band of colour for the area destroyed in 2017.
Haiti’s children will need our support. As will the children of the Dominican Republic, Cuba, the Bahamas and many other islands of the Eastern Caribbean. Hurricane Irma is of unprecedented scale. It’s only the fifth hurricane ever recorded of Category 5 magnitude in the Atlantic basin. Homes will go. Schools will go. Hospitals will go. Lives will go. It’s multi-country, and multi-island. That means the prepositioning of stocks is crucial. Emergency stock (WASH, Ed, tents, hygiene) have been pre-positioned in Antigua and Barbados which will be deployed first for the Eastern Caribbean. Stocks have been identified in the warehouses in Panama. Lists of potential needs are being drawn up – tents, early learning kits, education kits, water purification tablets…and much more.
And we’re sending out ‘how to stay safe’ messages – on social media, radio and via U-Report. Make sure items that could cause damage are secure. Ensure your gas and electricity are safe. Stay calm. Store unperishable foods and medicines. Have water in containers with lids. Last night, via adverts on Facebook, someone in the path of Hurricane Irma was clicking to receive advice on how to stay safe every 10 seconds. UNICEF is working hard to ensure those in the path of the storm are prepared, and we’re ready to help them when the storm comes.