Haiti braces for peak of hurricane season 2009. A true “lessons learned” effort
Port-au-Prince, September 2, 2009 - Several tropical depressions have formed in the Caribbean already this year, but Haiti is better prepared today then in 2008 when four consecutive major hurricanes slammed the island. The colossal impact pushed the government and international agencies to the brink of capacity to handle the multiple emergencies. 800,000 people were displaced—among them 300,000 children, scores of schools, homes, and crops were destroyed. No one was prepared for the onslaught.
Within the context of the Government of Haiti’s new National Strategy for Risks and Disasters plan for 2009, UNICEF and the UN agencies and partners devised contingency plans to meet the needs at various levels of emergency based on evaluations of last year’s devastating season.
Gonaives, Haiti’s third largest city, had not fully recovered from Hurricane Jeanne’s massive floods in 2004, when Hurricane Hannah’s 105mph winds wiped out the city again in September 2008. Massive flooding destroyed the entire water supply system. Along with its partners (OXFAM GB, CARE and ACF), UNICEF took the lead in restoring safe drinking water to Gonaives’ 30,000 inhabitants and children. “In terms of coverage, we started at zero. We’ve rehabilitated 400 wells and today provide approximately 25 liters of safe drinking water per person a day,” says Atchade.
Emergency supplies provided by UNICEF ranging from tents to water purification tablets, hygiene kits, blankets, health kits, cooking sets, and portable water systems have been pre-positioned in six key departments throughout Haiti (South, SouthEast, North, NorthOuest and Central). A network of NGOs partners has been set up to handle onsite distribution of supplies stocked at WFP warehouses.
But emergency preparations do not only involve prepositioning supplies. In countries prone to natural disasters like Haiti, children are the most vulnerable victims with emotional impact and scars of tragic experiences running deep.
“Our preparation for Hurricane Season 2009 is a true “Lessons Learned” effort at its best” says Julien Kossi Atchade, UNICEF’s Water and Sanitation Cluster specialist. “All of us –the agencies, the government and all our partners quickly assessed the needs and implemented the lessons learned from 2008. We have a coordinated response in place. Compared to last year, we’re better prepared.”
No one here is taking any risks. Marking the start of the official hurricane season this past June, the Haitian government has taken every step to keep the population informed on preventive and safety measures through a series of public awareness spots on radio and television as well as advisories from its own hurricane watch center.