Moving forward at full speed + 1 – Time is short
PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI, 17 October – “A lot of things are moving forward at the same time. Big organisations in general, and the United Nations in particular, are often accused of being slow and sluggish, yet looking at the speed of action and feeling the vibe within UNICEF Haiti over the past weeks, the opposite seems true. Yet even fast is not fast enough in view of the crying needs of children in Haiti’s devastated West.
UNICEF is providing nutritional support to children who are malnourished Photo: Cornelia Walther
Within 24 hours of Matthew hitting Haiti our first team was on the ground, setting up camp and starting to push for safe water in the emergency shelters in Les Cayes, and – once the road opened – Jérémie. Within 48 hours experts in every sector of UNICEF’s focus – from emergency, water & sanitation, nutrition, health, education and child protection were deployed to assess the immediate needs. It is estimated that at least 590,000 children under 18 years of age are in need of assistance.
590,000 children under 18 years of age are in need of assistance
As cholera is the biggest immediate threat, ensuring access to clean water, hygiene and sanitation is priority. Ensuring nutrition support, getting children back to school and setting up basic child protection services are further areas of focus. Based on currently available information, an initial response plan was prepared and a flash appeal released. To cover immediate live-saving needs in the Grand Anse, the South, the Nippes and the North West departments, US$ 7.3 million are needed.
As it often seems from afar that nothing is moving on the ground, here is an overview of action that is ongoing as I write. In collaboration with partners, UNICEF is working to:
- Provide safe water and adequate sanitation to help prevent the spread of water and vector-borne diseases (particularly cholera) – targeting 1,250,000 people, including 500,000 children
- Ensure children can return to school, by providing equipment to teachers and pupils – targeting 106,000 children
- Support child protection services to protect children from violence, exploitation and abuse – targeting 10,000
- To ensure close nutrition monitoring and treatment of children suffering from malnutrition.
Communication with affected populations is being prioritised within each programme area, with the objective of linking emergency interventions to development objectives.
UNICEF is prioritising the provision of clean water and adequate sanitation, in order to prevent the spread of water and vector-borne diseases, particularly cholera. Photo: Cornelia Walther
It is important to keep in mind that the response to children’s immediate needs is happening now, in parallel to the preparation of a more detailed assessment of the situation; the latter being essential to shape an adequate medium and long-term response. All action is being orchestrated under the lead of the Government of Haiti.
Two new events that weren’t mentioned before: starting from tomorrow, Tuesday 18 October, schools are set to reopen progressively. Closing the temporary shelters that are currently in schools and getting as many children back to school as quickly as possible is a clear priority of the Ministry of Education (The challenge is to find alternative accommodation for those families that have found refuge in the schools and have nowhere else to go). UNICEF is supporting the education by refurbishing schools, including ensuring suitable water & sanitation facilities, and by providing furniture including benches, tables and blackboards. Yet,as many people have lost all their belongings, we also provide school kits to children and teaching kits to teachers. This week rehabilitation of the first 30 schools starts and 45,000 school bags and school kits for 8,000 children are scheduled to arrive from Copenhagen.
On Saturday 15 October a large water treatment plant was installed in Jérémie, which produces approximately 300,000 litres of clean water per day, benefiting 20,000 people.
Much more is going on. Please stay with us.
High level visit – Ban Ki-moon in Haiti
PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI, 15 October 2016 – “It now feels strange to wake up in my apartment, surrounded by solid walls, running water and electricity; passing untouched houses and crowds of cars on my way to work. Nothing has changed, and yet everything has changed. We can’t make unseen what our eyes have once taken in, and that is a good thing.
The experience of the past week is like a propeller to move fast and efficiently to help those who can’t at present help themselves. Every hour, every day is precious. A plan for staff rotation has been set-up to ensure that colleagues who had been deployed from the outset in areas affected by Matthew get a chance to rest and recover, while our operations continue on the ground. Every colleague who returns is touched, shaken, and even further committed to giving their maximum. As I write these lines UNICEF experts for Emergency, Health, Nutrition, Education, Water & Sanitation and Child protection are present in the three worst hit areas – Grand Anse (the far West), South, and Nippes.
Yesterday the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon visited Haiti – four hours on Haitian soil, including in Les Cayes. His objective was to witness the situation and talk to people, including in one of the emergency shelters where UNICEF has been delivering safe water from Day One.
Over 2 million people throughout the country have been affected by the storm.
Furthermore, his visit coincided with the launch of the new Medium Term Plan to eliminate cholera from Haiti. It is the second phase of the 10 year plan that was launched in July 2014. It covers two years and seeks to boost ongoing efforts (Looking back, the 2014 launch was the occasion that initially brought me to Haiti, and I still remember getting out of the plane, feeling the magic of the country take me in. It sounds weird and yet the gratefulness for living in this special place has not left me since).
The new plan has two pillars. The first seeks to intensify the drive to eliminate cholera with rapid responses to every alert, vaccinations and improving long-term access to clean water and sanitation in Haiti (UNICEF is a key player in regards to rapid response and water & sanitation). The second pillar will be an assistance package for those most affected by the disease, which has sickened more than 700,000 since 2010. The UN Secretary General plans to present the details of the proposal to the UN General Assembly before he leaves office in the next few months.
Since the beginning of the cholera outbreak in 2010 almost 10,000 people have died from the disease and more than 27,000 suspected cases had been reported from January 2017 until Matthew hit – an estimated one in three was a child. UNICEF has been working with the Government and various partners from the beginning to counter the threat of the epidemic, and to establish the requirements to rid the country of cholera – which means notably access to adequate sanitation and clean water. Even before the hurricane, only one in three people in Haiti had access to proper latrines and less than three in five had access to safe water. In rural areas, these rates go down to one in four for sanitation and one in two for water. But even leaving aside cholera, diarrhea is the fourth largest killer of children under-five Haiti, accounting for 12 per cent of under-five deaths every year.
The areas hit by Matthew had so far not been largely affected by cholera, but now there is an increase in acute diarrhea and cholera, in addition to the destruction left behind by the storm itself. Focusing on clean water has never been more crucial.
Figures released by OCHA (the Organisation for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) on 5th October paint an ever darker picture of Matthew’s impact: 546 people died, 438 are injured, and 128 are missing. Over 2 million people throughout the country have been affected by the storm. At least 750,000 people, including 315,000 children, need urgent humanitarian aid for the next three months. 112,500 children under age five are at risk of acute malnutrition. Education is disrupted for 106,250 children. And these figures are still evolving…
Thank You for keeping children in Haiti in your mind.
*NOTE* A UNICEF supply flight will go to Haiti this week. More information, photos and b roll will be made available.
Setting the stage for the next steps
PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI, 14 October 2016 – Matthew hit Haiti ten days ago. It changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of children, and the surface of the West of the country forever. The past days have been a rush against time and space. Making the impossible happen, fast, has become a normal imperative for everyone in the office, from Management to Programmes to Administration, over Finance to Supply and Communication.
Today’s post is about the backstage that is starting to take shape, while UNICEF teams are on the ground, delivering day by day what might make the difference between life and death (It may sound overly dramatic reading it here, but having seen over the past days the living conditions that families in Grand Anse, Nippes and the South departments experience makes it feel like a pretty realistic take on the situation. Unsafe water + difficult conditions + malnutrition + lacking health services = ?)
Before the storm – Haitian schoolkids happily showing off their UNICEF schoolbags. 100,000 kids are currently out of school because their schools have been closed, damaged, or they are being used as shelters Photo: Cornelia Walther
Talking about budgets, pipelines and planning seem far less tangible than setting-up water bladders and distributing water purification tablets, yet with each new emergency that I find myself in I realize how crucial the bureaucratic legwork is to make sure that children in crises get their chance to drink, eat, learn, and play.
The first donors to step up to our requests for help are the governments of Japan, Canada, and the US/USAID, but also the European Aid and Civil Protection Commission (ECHO), the UK’s Department of Foreign Development (DFID) and UNICEF’s US Fund. Each of them has proven once again their commitment to make children’s rights matter, not merely on paper but in practice. Safe access to clean water, adequate sanitation, education, protection, nutrition and vaccination are the core priorities that are covered by UNICEF’s initial appeal for funds. These sectors have been positioned via a Flash Appeal that was released in the days immediately after Matthew. The Emergency Response Plan that is currently in the making will flesh out the details, with a request for more.
With additional information now available, including figures that illustrate the vast scale of Matthew’s impact, the ambition of the programme widens. It seeks to capitalise on experiences learned from the post-earthquake years, and on UNICEF’s 50+ years of working in partnership with the Haitian Government and communities across the country.
In 2017 the Country Office will launch its new 5-year development programme. The humanitarian response plan to Matthew seeks a complementary and coherent approach to link the two. Another large-scale framework is the Government’s medium-term plan to eliminate cholera in Haiti. UNICEF’s strategy in response to cholera, as enshrined in this plan, will be expanded to the areas affected by Matthew. Rather than duplicating, the aim is to make the maximum of existing and upcoming resources.
That UNICEF is an international organisation has been evidenced by the fact that colleagues from all over the globe seem to be in motion to make the most happen in the shortest period of time. Over the past week I have spoken to people from the US, Canada, Uruguay, France, Tunisia, Argentina, Brazil, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Australia, Great Britain, Ireland and so many others (Cornelia Walther is UNICEF’s Communications Chief in Haiti). Each of them seeking to help in moving things forward, so that children in Jérémie and Les Cayes get glimpses of hope quickly.
The needs are massive. But they can be addressed if all players join hands with one objective – investing in the future, investing in children… or – in Creole ‘Men ensem chaj pa lou’ (If hands are joined together, the load is not heavy).
From Jérémie to Port-au-Prince – a net difference
PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI, 13 October 2016 – “The return drive from Jérémie to the capital takes us seven hours; on a bumpy road that at times hardly deserves the qualification ‘road’. Seven hours, several hundred kilometres that separate night and day. Transitioning from total destruction in the far West to the reality in Port-au-Prince, where life has mostly gone back to business as usual.
The difference in living conditions between children in the urban areas and those born in rural locations was tremendous before. The vast majority of Haitian children who don’t have access to quality education, health care and clean water live in remote rural areas. This situation was pre-existent to Matthew and even the 2010 Earthquake. It is a question of consistent structural investment in social services and infrastructure (Note – child development indicators illustrate that progress HAS happened over the past ten years, just not enough to benefit every boy and every girl).
Creative housing solutions in Hurricane Matthew-devastated Haiti. Photo: Cornelia Walther
But beyond this demographic gap there is now the two-world feeling that weighs one down when driving from the far West to the capital. Every kilometre feels like transitioning from one existence into the other. From a place where families’ livelihoods are shattered to a buzzing city where most people have fallen back into their daily routine.
There is now the two-world feeling that weighs one down when driving from the far West to the capital. Every kilometre feels like transitioning from one existence into the other.
I am grateful for the opportunity to see and feel the reality behind the statistics that circulate in humanitarian circles since the passage of Matthew. There is so much to learn. Indeed it is difficult to put in words the mix of despair and courage that colours the mood in the two most affected areas. The mothers and fathers, and the young people I got the chance to talk to have accepted what happened; they are not condemning their situation, rather they channel their energy in pragmatic ways to live forward under the new circumstances (On the road back a bus drives in front of us, ironically in line with this state of mind “Dieu qui decide” – It’s God who decides).
Children find a way to play amidst the destruction of their homes. Photo: Cornelia Walther
The creative housing solutions that have been engineered with flown away tin roofs, with plastic sheeting and other available building materials tell the tale of resilience.
The mothers and fathers, and the young people I got the chance to talk to have accepted what happened; they are not condemning their situation, rather they channel their energy in pragmatic ways to live forward under the new circumstances.
And some think already beyond – “My house is destroyed; now I life with my brother and his family. We are seven in 1 1/5 rooms. Building back a home is important to me, but I also want to plant trees, many trees. The destruction of nature here in Grand Anse will have a very bad impact on climate change,” that’s what Tamar, a student in economics tells me (Miraculously the eggplant seedlings that he had planted before Matthew survived the storm; the start of a green beginning?)
A day in the sign of Water
JÉRÉMIE, HAITI 12 October – “The day starts with clean water and concludes with clean water. Together with NGO partner ACTED we visit two of the 25 emergency shelters where some of the families whose homes have been destroyed by Matthew found refuge. An average of 250 to 500 people stay in each location, co-habitating in very little space. Ensuring clean water and appropriate hygiene conditions is more important than ever to avoid epidemics.
Mostly these shelters are in schools that withstood the hurricane thanks to solid construction. The five shelters where the largest numbers of people are concentrated are managed by ACTED. Here, three agents work every day from morning till night, cleaning up the environment, the water cistern and the toilets. “I am staying here with my four children. Matthew destroyed what we had. No idea how I can start to rebuild our house. I have no money to buy building materials”, Rose (37) tells me. She is staying in the CHO shelter, which was previously a school and a church.
To counter the looming risk of cholera, UNICEF is supporting the Government in the organisation of various prevention interventions. After an increase in diarrhea cases in two of the shelters, people were yesterday evening given a prophylaxis to temporarily increase their immunity. We are working on hygiene education also.
The shelters are a critical junction between relief and return. While the objective is to support the people in the present acute crises, the aim is to prepare them for their return home as soon as possible.
Next we move to a water treatment station, La Digue, which is the go-to place where most of the inhabitants of Jérémie get their water. Chlorine is put in every single water truck carrying water to areas where the most vulnerable people live, such as the CHO shelter. Not an easy job. “I work every day from 7 am until 7 pm. No matter if it rains or of if it’s hot, like today. Before Matthew I was studying mechanics. The storm has destroyed my house and I need money to rebuild it, so I started working here”, explains Alicien (24). He earns 400 gourds per day (less than $6USD).
We follow Honore, a technical expert, who tours the different water distribution points in the city of Jérémie on his motorbike. Wherever he arrives people are waiting patiently, buckets in hand … The water is safe and free.
From La Digue we follow Honore, a technical expert of DINEPA (the Government entity in charge of water and sanitation, one of our key partners) who tours the different water distribution points in the city of Jérémie on his motorbike. Wherever he arrives people are waiting patiently, buckets in hand, until the tabs are opened. The water is safe and free. A blessing in the midst of uncertainty and lacking resources.
In Rozeau, a popular part of Jérémie I meet Josiane: “Before I had to walk two hours to La Digue to get our water, and then back again. This distribution in my part of town makes it so much easier”, she tells me. Like so many other her house has been damaged. “The roof just flew away with the wind; and everything was under water. Instead of the roof we now have plastic sheeting to protect us from the rain.” (Rozeau means bamboo, and there is a beautiful Creole proverb that seems to encapsulate the resilience of the Haitian people: ‘M se Rouzeau. Menm si mwen pliye m pap kase’ – I am a bamboo, even when I am bent I am not broken’).
The day concludes with a briefing with the French military on a water treatment system that has been flown in from France and is on its way to Jérémie as I write. Over three weeks the two units will provide 400 cubic meters of clean water (based on the estimate of 10 litres per day, this will benefit 20,000 people), a precious transition to support the Government until a more viable solution can be established. It is a great illustration of the value of complementary resources and partnerships. The French Government lends the equipment and the personnel to operate it, UNICEF ensures the coordination between civil and military partners, and organises the distribution in collaboration with DINEPA, and finally the UN peacekeeping mission MINUSTHA which covers the security of the convoy from Port-au-Prince to Jérémie (over the past days an increasing number of attacks on trucks that deliver aid has been reported in the South and Grand Anse. As people, in particular those in very remote areas feel that nobody is coming to their rescue, they stop the trucks. Usually they take what they need, and then allow the driver to continue with the remaining supplies to his destination.) So many children must be reached, every drop of clean water is a drop to eventually fill the half full glass to the rim.
Pestel – visiting a cholera treatment center, in the middle of nowhere
JÉRÉMIE, HAITI, 11 October 2016 “We are seven hours on the road, or rather on a rocky trail that makes one grateful for a solid back and stomach and so much more. All along the way to the town of Pestel, one of the areas where a significant increase in diarrhoea cases has been registered over the past week, we pass destroyed houses and trees. People are in front of their homes, stranded. Some still stunned, others busily seeking to bring order into the chaos.
People are in front of their homes, stranded. Some still stunned, others busily seeking to bring order into the chaos.
The objective of our visit to Pestel, together with NGO Acted (one of UNICEF’s main partners in the response to cholera in the Grand Anse region) is to follow a rapid response team. These teams exist in areas all across the country, including locations affected by the hurricane. They are part of the Government/UNICEF strategy to eliminate cholera from Haiti. Their task is to investigate each case that is registered, and to establish a large sanitary cordon around the affected household to prevent the disease spreading.
Mylove Théogène (8) outside her collapsed home, Jérémie © UNICEF/UN035307/LeMoyne
Three weeks ago – in a life before Matthew – Haiti’s medium-term plan to eliminate cholera was launched. It has three pillars: coordination and support in the decision-making process, access to health care and a strategy to fight against the transmission of cholera. UNICEF is involved in all three of these areas and the rapid response teams we’ve joined in Pestel are working hard on care and prevention.
Cholera was a major problem before Matthew, and it is even more so since. One in three cholera patients is a child!
One in three cholera patients is a child… cholera or not, children can die from diarrhoea.
Cholera may have been present in Pestel before Matthew but the current situation is exacerbating it. There were three suspected cases between July and Matthew, and nine since. Several people may have died. Investigation is underway to confirm whether these cases of diarrhoea are indeed cholera, or due to another cause. However – cholera or not, children can die from diarrhoea. An undernourished person, in particular a child who is still growing, will not hold up long once reserves are depleted. For children, the impact is a double disaster. Even if they survive, the effect on their physical and intellectual capacities will last forever. If they survive…
In Jérémie, Haiti, a boy drinks water from a small bucket. A tanker truck in the area provides chlorine-treated spring water to temporary shelters for the displaced. ACTED, a UNICEF implementing NGO-partner, is working in partnership with the national water branch, DINEPA, to ensure the purification of the water delivered. © UNICEF/UN035684/LeMoyne
Indeed the conditions created by the cyclone create a welcoming environment for the spread of disease. Destroyed access to clean water, lack of sanitation, the movement and the concentration of people in camp-like settings create an environment that is ripe for an epidemic. Water is one of the core causes of contamination and UNICEF is working tirelessly with the Government and various partners to reestablish access to safe drinking water in the most affected areas.
“A doctor in my commune handed out water purification tablets shortly after the cyclone. When I had used them up I started to get sick”, said Noel, one of the patients in the cholera treatment center of Pestel.
In the absence of a functioning water system people are forced to use rainwater that may be unsafe. Noel lost his home like so many others.
On 12 October 2016 in Jérémie, Haiti, people fill up buckets and jerry cans with clean water from a water bladder. © UNICEF/UN035686/LeMoyne
Elia, the mother of a little girl on the neighboring cot also suspects that her daughter got sick from dirty water. “But what can I do”, she says. “I don’t even have money to buy food, how can I buy Aquatabs?”
It took her three hours by motorcycle to reach the centre with her daughter. “Kay kraze, tout kraze kraze”, she says – the house is destroyed, totally destroyed.
The absence of food is on everybody’s mind just as much as the need for shelter. “I haven’t eaten since the cyclone” says Noel. “The catastrophe destroyed all my crops.”
Matthew coincided with the harvest season and destroyed huge swathes of agricultural land. The fruit trees that we drive by are all empty, surrounded by slowly decaying fruits including chadec (local grapefruit) and avocado. For families in remote areas, this food was all they had to survive on and now it’s all gone.
Matthew coincided with the harvest season and destroyed huge swathes of agricultural land. The fruit trees that we drive by are all empty, surrounded by slowly decaying fruits including chadec (local grapefruit) and avocado. For families in remote areas, this food was all they had to survive on and now it’s all gone.
“We are a bit pessimistic” says Dr. Philip Cedec (50). He and his nurse are the only two staff members in Pestel’s health center and the adjacent Cholera treatment center.
“Already before it was difficult. Now it will be hard. The people are going to pay. There will be hunger in Pestel” worries Dr. Cedec, who studied in Mexico but decided to return to Haiti, and to his hometown in the middle of nowhere.
He started his education in the Pestel primary school, next to the health centre. But post-Matthew the school’s roof is gone, the building is flooded and the furniture is trashed. Yesterday students should have returned for the official reopening of the schools but they were unable to. We must find an alternative until the building is re-established or children will miss out on their education.
Talking to Noel, Elia and Dr. Cedec, and passing to dozens of villages similar to Pestel, the needs seem overwhelming. So much must be done, but the only way is to start. For UNICEF this means safe water and sanitation – especially in emergency shelters where so many people are living crowded together. It also means helping children return to school.
In Creole “Nap vanse !” (Let’s go !)
Mesi & Thank you
A race against time
JÉRÉMIE, HAITI, 10 October 2016
“Finally I am in Jérémie. The road from Les Cayes took about three hours. With every kilometre we advance towards the West of the country the ugly face of Matthew’s aftermath sinks in further. It is difficult to express in sufficiently visual words the devastation. Thousands of thousands of trashed trees and houses. In every village we pass people are in front of their houses (or what is left of them) seeking to put together, to salvage, to restore the remaining fragments of what was once their livelihood.
It is difficult to express in sufficiently visual words the devastation. Thousands of thousands of trashed trees and houses… 70 to 80% of the people here are affected by Matthew.
Reading that 70 to 80% of the people here are affected by Matthew sounds shocking on paper, driving through Grand Anse it becomes reality. And what we see are only the areas by the side of the road; there are areas in the mountains that still remain unreachable. Many have received no aid since the hurricane subsided, and no one knows if and when they will.
Jérémie, Haiti, collapsed homes appear on top of a hill. © UNICEF/UN035310/LeMoyne
Today the schools officially reopened. In the most affected areas 100,000 children didn’t return to school, and no one knows when they will. We are working with the Ministry of Education to devise temporary solutions. On a positive note – travelling to Jérémie we pass Catiche and see a yellow building still standing with its bright blue roof. It is one of the 15 schools that UNICEF had built with the Ministry in 2013/2014 – the anti-seismic, anti-cyclonic design has certainly paid off.
Today the schools officially reopened. In the most affected areas 100,000 children didn’t return to school, and no one knows when they will.
Upon arrival in Jérémie we meet with colleagues on the ground who have been on site since Thursday when the road opened. Since their arrival they have been racing against time to get safe water flowing for the most-affected people. The water system was weak before Matthew and is now in large parts dysfunctional. In collaboration with the Government and NGO partners water chlorination points are set-up to ensure the water that people fetch is safe, bladders are set up in points of dense population and water trucking provides water in the hardest-hit locations. While finding temporary solutions to the immediate needs, the planning of a medium term solution is underway, with the organisation of water-treatment systems that will be able to treat several thousand litres of water per day. The threat of cholera is looming large.
The water system was weak before Matthew and is now in large parts dysfunctional.
We visit one of the five cholera treatment units managed by UNICEF’s NGO implementing partner in Grand Anse department. It had been badly damaged yet is now back operational. An average of 30 new patients arrives every day. People arrive with the symptoms of diarrhoea and vomiting; at the centre they are treated with oral, or in serious cases intravenous, rehydration (you may remember yesterday’s mention of the truck-load with Oral Rehydration Salt and ringer – we saw how it saves lives today).
“When my daughter started to vomit I was pretty sure it is cholera. In a situation like this one when people have no clean water this is usually what happens”, explains Saran, who brought his daughter this morning. It took him 30 minutes to walk to the centre. His little one is better now, even able to smile again. His story is the same one we’ve heard from families in Les Cayes, ‘Kay kraze’ – our house is destroyed. Saran was a mason but hasn’t gone back to work yet. It remains to be confirmed in the laboratory whether the numerous diarrhoea cases that were registered over the past days are actually cholera, but whether diarrhoea or cholera, left untreated both can kill a child.
Dicejour Gelin, 13, pose in front of their house, which was destroyed by the path of Hurricane Matthew in the town of Jeremie, in the Garnd-Anse Department, Haiti © UNICEF/UN035046/Moreno Gonzalez
Next stop on our agenda is a water chlorination station at the source of La Digue, where the majority of people get their water. In every water truck an agent from one our NGO partners puts a small bucket of chlorine, and in every jerry-can that someone comes to fetch there are two water purification tablets (these were part of the supplies that we had pre-positioned pre-Matthew. We have replenished those initiatl stocks with several truck-loads of aid since). All of our work is being done in collaboration with the Haitian Government.
Tomorrow we’re off to follow a rapid response team that will investigate cholera alerts in Pestel, a two-hour drive from Jérémie.
Merci & Mesi
“The ocean took everything. It just washed over us.”
LES CAYES, HAITI, 9 October 2016
“I left this morning for Les Cayes, one of areas in the south worst-affected by Hurricane Matthew. Before we hit the road we visited UNICEF’s warehouse in the capital. It is Sunday but six trucks were being loaded when we arrived, the team started work at sunrise.
The supplies reflect our current priorities: safe water for families to prevent diseases, health supplies and assistance for children living in emergency shelters. These trucks will head towards Jérémie this afternoon carrying Oral Rehydration Salts and other treatments for people affected by diarrhoea, blankets and water purification tablets. Distribution of these items to affected families in Jérémie will start tomorrow.
Driving to Les Cayes takes four hours. The road is clear but along the way countless fallen trees and houses without roofs tell Matthew’s tale.
After arriving in Les Cayes we meet UNICEF colleagues who have been on the ground since Wednesday, assessing the most pressing needs in water and sanitation, education and protection. They direct us to some of the locations where UNICEF’s support can already be seen – the hospital (where currently only minimum services are being provided) and schools turned into shelters which are all using our water bladders for safe water supply.
Seven-month-old Kelly sleeps close to his father, Francois Louissaint, in a school in Arcahaie, that now serves as temporary shelter © UNICEF/UN034985/Moreno Gonzalez
Next we head to the outskirts of town to talk to families who have lost their livelihoods. Those located at the ocean have been particularly affected. ‘Kay kraze’ is the Creole phrase that is echoed by many of those we meet – it means “The house is destroyed.”
“The ocean took everything. It just washed over us. I am afraid of the ocean now,” said Michelline (13).
The roof blew off Michelline’s home and her school is closed. But at least she and her whole family are safe. They have since returned to their house, but even after three days of sunshine everything is damp.
One of the challenges is that the majority of people who lost their homes also lost their source of income and as a result have no money to rebuild.
“Only those who have cholera remained,” someone tells about his visit.
The risk of disease is looming and reports of cholera are becoming more and more frequent. The most recent cases are reported from Port a Piment, located on the coast about a two-hour drive from here, where massive waves and strong winds destroyed everything. “Only those who have cholera remained,” someone tells about his visit.
Clean up in Jérémie, on the western tip of Haiti © UNICEF/UN034846/Abassi, UN-MINUSTAH
The mood in Matthew’s aftermath is mixed. While the town of Les Cayes clearly carries the signs of destruction, some neighbourhoods seem untouched. Driving across town we cross paths with dozens of men walking with wood and construction materials, starting to rebuild what has been lost. In the emergency shelter we see young people playing football. Laughter and sadness, renewal and ending always seem to go hand in hand.
Tomorrow we pursue the road toward Jérémie.
Thank you & Mesi anpil
‘Men anpil chaj pa lou’
PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI, 7 October
“The past 72 hours have been a whirlwind of action. Days start at 5 AM and last on average 16 hours. UNICEF teams arrived on site 24 hours after Matthew hit the South, and every precious minute is used to respond to the most pressing needs on the ground. While seeking in parallel a solid assessment of the prevailing needs of children – in order to kick-start an efficient and adequate response, fast.
With every hour that passes more localities are reached and further information reaches us. Every new bit of information tells the tale of death and destruction, further engraving the fact that the present life and the future of hundreds of thousands of children and families are at stake. US$ 5 Million (for Haiti alone) is requested for the immediate response to children; as the extent of Matthew’s touch on Haiti becomes evident, this figure will rise. (Eye witnesses on the ground tell us of entire cities being “wiped out”.)
Hurricane survivor in Jérémie, Haiti © UNICEF/UN034852/Abassi, UN-MINUSTAH
As the urgency and scale of children’s requirements takes centre stage in our mind, the UNICEF’s response machine is turning on peak-speed. The need for clean water is crucial at this stage, as the worry about a spike in Cholera cases take shape. Six trucks take the road this week-end, for water trucking and transport of additional mobile water-bladders, drinking water. Under the overall leadership of the Government UNICEF is charged in the domains of Water & Sanitation, Education and Nutrition to facilitate the coordination of those multiple partners that have started to deploy in the South and West. The challenge today is to combine the immediate response for children that has to happen NOW, and the planning of a complementary assistance mechanism that gets the best out of everyone’s resources – keeping in mind that we are here in support of Haitian families and the Government. It is not an easy task, but not impossible either. UNICEF specialists for WASH, Education, Protection, Health, and Emergency have been on the ground for the past three days working with the various players on the ground. As I write action this underway full speed. (A Creole proverb I just learned summarizes the spirit “Men anpil, chaj pa loud.” (Many hands, load not heavy…))
Thank you & Mesi anpil
PS: Good news – the phonelines to Les Cayes and Jeremy have been re-established last night. Some of our staff have families in Jeremy and Dame Marie (located in the far West), who had no contact with their loved once since Matthew finally are able to get in touch. (yesterday morning a colleague told me “I am worried because I cannot reach anyone in my home town” yet she was calm, getting on with her work for families that are in need, like her own might be.)
After the storm is before the storm – Deye mon gen mon
PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI, October 5 2016 – “Matthew has passed. The rain has stopped. Yet the trail that the hurricane has left is deep and will take months, if not years, to close.
Schools are still closed but shops and the airport are open anew. In Port-au-Prince (PAP) life is slowly getting back on track.
The situation is dramatically different in the departments of South, Nippes and Grand Anse. Telecommunication to the latter has finally been re-established. The information that has started to trickle-in over the past hours is confirming our worst expectations. While no official assessment of casualties and damage is available yet, an initial count of people who have sought refuge after the storm destroyed their homes amounts to over 11,000 in addition to more than 5,000 in the West. Too many of them are children.
The only road that connects the capital to the South is disrupted after a bridge collapsed on Tuesday. A first UNICEF team has left PAP this morning heading south and using a temporary bridge they managed to cross the river, continuing towards Les Cayes, one of the most heavily-impacted areas. A second team will follow tomorrow. At the same time we are in touch with partners from the wider UN system who seek to arrange helicopter transport starting from tomorrow (The challenge is that they need to find a dry & safe spot to land).
While the South/Grand Anse are the most heavily-affected locations, Matthew has also left his destructive trail in the metropolitan area of Port-au-Prince and in the North, North-West departments. Detailed assessments are yet to be done but already we know from the Government’s child protection agency IBESR that at least 2,000 vulnerable children, who have either been separated from their families during the storm or inhabited frail orphanages before Matthew, have been evacuated to temporary shelters. Identifying a maximum of children who are in a similar situation is among the priorities for the coming hours. Currently, a multi-sectorial team is circulating in the poorest and most-affected areas of Port-au-Prince to assess the needs. During the storm 130 children were evacuated from Cite Soleil, one of the poorest neighbourhoods, and UNICEF is now working with IBESR to ensure that their needs in terms of food, water, blankets and hygiene are covered.
Access to clean water and sanitary conditions remains top of the list of priorities, to avoid the outbreak of waterborne diseases (and a worsening of the lingering cholera crises – which caused between 400-500 new cases per week, before Matthew). Among the items that we put in place pre-Matthew: water bladders, chlorine tablets and hygiene kits for 10,000 people. Further supply of these items is in the pipeline, as soon as access becomes possible.
Fortunately, the areas that have had the highest caseload of cholera in 2016 (Artibonite, North, Center and PAP) are not the ones that carry the biggest brunt of the hurricane.
Schools remain closed until 10 October as per Government ordinance. Yet even afterwards, a return to the classroom will be challenging. Thousands of children who just entered their new school year, now face a situation where their schools are flooded, destroyed or serve as shelter for those who lost their homes. The set-up of temporary schooling options is another item on our (long) priority list.
Supporting the Haitians in their efforts for reconstruction is the core attitude that remains engraved in every UNICEF-staff member.
Amidst all this, supporting the Haitians in their efforts for reconstruction is the core attitude that remains engraved in every UNICEF-staff member. Ever and again Haitian families have proven their resilience in building back their lives, finding ways and means to protect their children despite hardship. Neither the 2010 Earthquake nor Matthew were able to damage the courage of women, men and children here. Our task now is to help them to move further along on their way.
The Haitian proverb ‘Deye mon gen mon’ translates as ‘behind mountains lie mountains’, which may be decoded as the succession of problems – once one is solved another one appears; but it may also be interpreted as the valley that comes after each hurdle. We’ll do our best to ensure that it will be a large and green valley, and that capacities to climb the next mountain are strengthened further.
Thank you & Mesi anpil
We are under Haiti
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Tuesday 4 October 2016 – The rain is pounding down on us. Ever since last night water has been everywhere. Even in Port-au-Prince, which is not in the path of Hurricane Matthew, massive downpours have occurred, and the rain continues to fall relentlessly. Schools, banks and shops remain closed and the roads are empty. We are ‘Under Matthew’ (or ‘Nou anba ouragan’ in Creole).
Early photos of Hurricane Matthew’s impact. The worst-affected areas are cut off from our teams by road. We are trying to reach part of the south by water or air today. © UNICEF/UN034468/Abassi, UN-MINUSTAH
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 of people 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.
© UNICEF/UN034482/Abassi, UN-MINUSTAH
As I write, we are getting the good news that all the supplies we sent for pre-positioning before the onset of the storm have arrived at their destinations and are serving the most affected families. It is a drop in the flooded areas, but it is a start, and in collaboration with various partners and under the overall lead of the Government we hope to eventually cover the basic needs of the families in need.
On 3 October 2016, a boy and his brother rest in a church in Croix des Bouquets © UNICEF/UN034437/Khodabande
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! But it is only the beginning.
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.
© UNICEF/UN034465/Abassi, UN-MINUSTAH
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 helicopters or a boat, to reach Miragoane tomorrow and then to take a car from there to continue to Les Cayes, and further down to the flooded West. In parallel a car will drive towards Miragoane to assess the road conditions. 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 for the time being impossible, as neither civil protection workers nor NGOs can get outdoors to assess the situation. We hope to know more tomorrow.
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 Walther is UNICEF’s Communications Chief in Haiti