Haiti: 300,000 stuck in cities under water – fears for millions of children as hurricane hits

5th October 2016

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Tuesday 4 October 2016 – UNICEF fears 1.2 million children, and their families, have been affected by Hurricane Matthew in the southern part of Haiti alone.

The Category 4 storm made landfall on the impoverished Caribbean island Tuesday. For two days, the people of Haiti have been enduring unending downpours of rain and dangerously high winds. Parts of the country are now completely cut off from aid, including the south, which is thought to be the worst-affected. The three biggest cities in the South – Les Cayes, Torbek and Aquin – are underwater.

UNICEF has 89 staff on the ground in Haiti. This is the biggest crisis Haitians have faced since the 2010 earthquake, in which 200,000 people died. 55,000 people are still living in temporary shelters after that disaster. They are now facing destruction and devastation for a second time in their lifetimes. It is understood that hundreds of thousands will have lost their homes, crops and livestock.

In a country where less than one in five people in rural areas have access to improved sanitation and 40 per cent of people use unsafe water sources, we fear the long-term humanitarian impacts.

We are worried about the four million children in the country who could be impacted by this disaster. Marc Vincent, UNICEF Representative in Haiti says: “Water-borne diseases like cholera are the first threat to children in similar situations – our first priority is to make sure children have enough safe water.”

UNICEF pre-positioned supplies in the areas we predicted would be worst hit before Hurricane Matthew made landfall. Thankfully, those supplies arrived to their destinations while the airport and roads were still open and 10,000 people will now benefit from them. They include water bladders and chlorination tablets, hygiene kits and mosquito nets.

UNICEF Haiti’s Head of Communications, Cornelia Walther has sent this personal update: “Schools, banks and shops remain closed and the roads are empty. We are ‘Under Matthew’ (or ‘Nou anba ouragan’ in Creole).

“Access to information remains sporadic and fragmented. According to bits and pieces received via satellite phones from our NGO partners on the ground, Matthew caused heavy damage in the South and in the Grand Anse Department (region), where thousands have lost their homes.

Current estimates suggest that about 1.2 million children, women and men are directly affected in the South alone. At this stage it is clear that the three main cities in the South – Les Cayes, Torbek and Aquin – are under water – affecting an estimated population of 300,000 people. Many of them have lost the little they possessed, everything they had. Homes, roads, trees, cattle – gone.

Likely the situation is similar in the Grand Anse Department but there is no confirmation yet. Based on current information, a minimum of $2 million USD will be needed for UNICEF to set-up a response that covers immediate life-saving needs, with further needs to be identified as the impact becomes clear.

At this stage our key priority is safe water and the prevention of epidemics. Emergency supplies delivered on site include water bladders and chlorination tablets, hygiene kits and mosquito nets. Keeping children safe from disease is crucial now!

The ways in which the storm may have had an impact on children is manifold, including the disruption of education as schools are closed (and many of them used as shelter), the separation of families and the breakdown of basic social services like health care.

A solid assessment is key to preparing an adequate response and we hope to send two teams to the South tomorrow to get a clearer picture of the situation, but we’ve just learned that transport by road won’t be a straightforward option… Ten minutes ago we heard that the whole of Southern Haiti, lashed relentlessly by Hurricane Matthew over the past hours, has been cut off from the rest of the country because of a bridge collapse. Infrastructure in Haiti is sparse and fragile – the road, Route Nationale 2, leading to and from the bridge is the only one that links the capital Port-au-Prince to the southern peninsula. It is 5 PM and right now we are thinking about using helicopters or a boat to reach the south and flooded West tomorrow. We have to reach the children in the South, and will find a way. Sooner, not later.

To have an idea of fatalities or the extent of damage in southern Haiti, is impossible for now, as neither civil protection workers nor NGOs can get outdoors to assess the situation.

My thoughts are with those children who are right now crowded in shelters with the raining drumming on the roof…

Thank you & Mesi anpil

Cornelia

 

UNICEF Ireland has launched an emergency appeal for the children of Haiti.

ENDS

 

FOR EDITORS

On-the-ground representatives available for interview – Cornelia Walther in Port-au-Prince, Ruth Craig in Panama (Irish) and Executive Director Peter Power in Dublin.

BRoll available here from the UNifeed site

Multimedia materials here.

Latest updates and satellite photos of the hurricane can be found via the National Hurricane Centre here

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For more information, please contact:

Aedín Donnelly, Communications and Media Manager for UNICEF Ireland | aedin@unicef.ie | Tel: +353 1 809 0281 | Mob: +353 85 1395272