|Satellite image of Hurricane Dean on 20 August.|
By Tim Ledwith
NEW YORK, USA, 20 August 2007 – UNICEF and other UN and humanitarian agencies took action to help the authorities respond to the emergency needs of children and families in Jamaica as Hurricane Dean, a dangerous Category 4 storm, battered the southern coast of the Caribbean island nation yesterday.
The hurricane ultimately passed just south of Jamaica, averting a direct hit. But strong winds and rain triggered mudslides, blocked roads, felled trees and power lines, and damaged roofs across a wide area.
According to news reports, the Jamaican Government said 300,000 people were displaced by the storm but no casualties had been reported yet. Electricity in the affected communities remains off today.
Hurricane warnings are now in effect for the coast of Belize and the east coast of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, where the storm now appears to be headed. Preparations are under way for UNICEF's response in those countries.
Children at risk
In a live update [mp3] filed by cell phone via the Uniwiki reporting system, a new emergency communications initiative, before the storm hit Jamaica, UNICEF Representative Bertrand Bainvel said hundreds of thousands of people in 230 communities there could be vulnerable to the effects of Hurricane Dean.
UNICEF estimates that children comprise 40 per cent of the population at risk in Jamaica. Other Caribbean nations, including the Cayman Islands, Cuba, Dominica, Haiti, Martinique and St. Lucia, have been affected by the storm as well. Nine people in the region have reportedly died as a result of the hurricane.
As Hurricane Dean approached landfall yesterday, the Jamaican authorities urged people to flee low-lying and landslide-prone areas, put troops and police on alert and transported residents to evacuation centres, according to a Reuters report. Meanwhile, lines formed at gas stations and supermarkets were packed with shoppers buying emergency provisions.
Supplies to meet anticipated needs
In cooperation with the government, UN partners and non-governmental organizations, UNICEF is working to secure hygiene items, bedding, food, water containers, water-purification tablets, roofing materials and medical supplies to meet the needs of hurricane victims.
“UNICEF has already responded by ordering some supplies, which will be arriving in the country right after the storm hits,” Mr. Bainvel said. Four emergency health kits (each containing essential medicines to treat thousands of people) and 1,000 collapsible water containers were among the most critical items to be flown in. Providing access to medical care and safe water are top priorities in UNICEF's response to emergencies such as this one.
In addition, said Mr. Bainvel, UNICEF is preparing to address issues of protection, psychological support and education for children affected by the hurricane, and to ensure continued treatment for Jamaican children living with HIV.
Coordinated UN response
In the early stages of a crisis that will almost certainly require a major international relief effort, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is overseeing the joint response in Jamaica and other hurricane-threatened areas.
As part of that effort, UNICEF, the World Food Programme and the World Health Organization have pre-positioned medical equipment, water-purification tablets, food stocks and relief staff in Haiti for transport to Jamaica or elsewhere in the region, as needed.
“UNICEF is going to continue monitoring closely the situation, along with the UN family,” said Mr. Bainvel, “and is prepared to respond.”
UNICEF Representative in Jamaica Bertrand Bainvel, speaking by cell phone via the Uniwiki reporting system, discusses emergency preparations for Hurricane Dean.
Audio link opens in a new window.