At a glance: Haiti

Delivering life-saving aid to hurricane-affected children and families in Haiti

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF 2008/Pittenger
Fernando Thermidor, 2, and his mother Judith look out from the Jubilee National School classroom where their family of five has sought refuge from the floods in Gonaïves, Haiti.

By Jasmine Pittenger

GONAÏVES, Haiti, 17 September 2008 – Fernando Thermidor has the look of a toddler who is all cried out as he buries his tear-stained face in his mother’s shoulder.

But this is no ordinary two-year-old’s temper tantrum. Fernando and his mother, Judith, are crammed into a schoolroom in Gonaïves, Haiti, where they have taken refuge from flash floods along with nearly 200 other people.

“We have been sleeping here – the whole family – for the past week. We had to run out of our house with only the clothes on our backs when the water rose,” says Judith. She uses one hand to show the level of the water in their house: mid-thigh.

One after another, in only three weeks’ time, Hurricanes Faye, Gustav, Hanna and Ike have battered Haiti. Flash flooding in the wake of the hurricanes has affected 800,000 people all over the country.

In Gonaïves alone, some 70,000 people are living in makeshift shelters such as Jubilee National School, where Fernando’s family is staying. They are hungry and tired after slogging through the fetid, muddy water that fills the streets, and they are in need of safe water to drink.

Supplies make difficult journey


UNICEF Image
© UNICEF 2008/Pittenger
Sender Doristil came to Jubilee National School by himself to get food for his family, who have a newborn baby at home.

A shout goes up at the shelter as the distribution truck arrives, bearing safe water from UNICEF and food from the World Food Programme. These will help fend off hunger and thirst – as well as the water-borne diseases that are the major killer of children in the aftermath of an emergency like this one, in which large numbers of people are forced to live at close quarters without proper sanitation.

The water and food that will be distributed today have made nearly as arduous a journey to get here as the Haitians themselves. All roads and bridges connecting Gonaïves to the rest of the country are destroyed, and humanitarian aid can only reach the area by helicopter and boat.

The challenges don’t stop there. Once the supplies have arrived in Gonaïves, they must be delivered under the escort of Blue Helmets from the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti, in order to ensure that they are put in the hands of those most in need.

More aid on the way

There are countless logistical challenges involved in bringing 60,000 litres of water and hundreds of family hygiene kits to Gonaïves – then delivering them into the hands of children and families in shelters like the one at Jubilee National School. And these are only the initial supplies needed to get the affected families through the first days of the crisis.

Many more tonnes of emergency aid are already on their way: 11.5 tonnes of blankets, hygiene kits, water purification tablets and oral rehydration salts (for treating diarrhoeal dehydration) have been airlifted from UNICEF's supply headquarters in Copenhagen.

The shipment also includes School-in-a-Box kits that will help the educational system to get back on its feet after the disaster.

Thousands receive emergency aid

The schoolyard here at Jubilee looks smaller and smaller, as thousands of people emerge from the classrooms where they have taken shelter. Nearly half of those getting in line are children. Many are wearing rags; the luckiest of them sport brightly coloured T-shirts that were only slightly ragged when this ordeal began. All are covered in mud.

“I came here today so my family could eat, so they could drink water,” says Sender Foristell, a boy who looks about 10. With four other children at home, including a newborn baby, his mother couldn’t join him in line.

Still, Sender’s family is one of the lucky ones. Their house, while flooded, is still standing, and the family was able to move up onto the rooftop, where they’ve built a makeshift tent.

‘More than unfair’

It is hard not to wonder how the misery inflicted by these four hurricanes will exacerbate the deprivation in which most Haitians already live.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF 2008/Pittenger
With high-energy biscuits bundled into their T-shirts and water bottles in hand, children – always among the most vulnerable in emergencies like the hurricane aftermath in Haiti – are better prepared to deal with their stay in the shelter.

“Haiti is already the poorest country in the western hemisphere. It’s a country that struggles to get its head above the murky water left behind by years of corruption and violence, and a country where food shortages led to violent riots as recently as last April,” says UNICEF’s Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, Nils Kastberg. “For it to be affected by four consecutive hurricanes in such a short time seems more than unfair.”

But young Sender, who has just received an armload of water, food and essential hygiene supplies, is clearly not thinking about questions of fairness. He carries his load with great care and with his head held high, because he is bringing life-saving help back to his family.


 

 

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