Six months on, UNICEF reviews Haiti quake-relief milestones, and looks forward
In late January, a woman holds a toddler, standing in a tent encampment on the golf course of the Pétionville Club in Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, one of hundreds of improvised settlements established after the earthquake.
Haiti earthquake: Six-month report
Six months after the earthquake that ravaged Haiti on 12 January, UNICEF has released a detailed report chronicling relief efforts to date. Titled ‘Children of Haiti: Milestones and looking forward at six months,’ the report begins by implicitly asking the question: What did not happen following the earthquake?
“So far, the much-anticipated malnutrition crises has not manifested itself despite the crippling blow to economic systems and coping mechanisms of caregivers,” says UNICEF Representative in Haiti Françoise Gruloos-Ackermans.
“We have also not seen any major disease outbreaks, despite the presence of crowded spontaneous settlements and disruption of water and sanitation systems,” she adds. “Why? Because we have been quite good in delivering water, in supporting sanitation, providing food with our colleagues from the World Food Programme – and so on. I think this is important to mention. We said at the beginning that we wanted to stabilize things.”
Life-saving care for children
Today in the quake zone, UNICEF is providing safe water to 333,000 people directly and to some 1.2 million through its partnership with other aid organizations. More than 275,000 children have been immunized against major vaccine-preventable diseases, and nutrition programmes are providing food to some 550,000 children under the age of five and lactating women.
At the same time, UNICEF is supporting 126 outpatient therapeutic-feeding programmes, which provide life-saving care to children with severe acute malnutrition. One of those children belongs to Camille Stephenea, a young, single mother who is benefitting from a UNICEF-supported ‘baby-friendly tent’ in a camp near the airport in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince. Her husband was killed in the earthquake and now she’s living with her infant son in a makeshift camp.
“When I came to the baby tent, I loved it,” she tells a visitor. “They give me a lot of good advice and they help me with the baby.
The baby-friendly tent offers Ms. Stephenea a safe, private area to breastfeed her son. It is one of 107 such tents where UNICEF provides counselling on proper infant and young child feeding, including exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months of life to help babies avoid illness. For those who are unable to breastfeed, the programme has distributed ready-to-use infant formula for some 3,000 babies.
Sanitation and protection
Another key challenge in post-earthquake Haiti, and especially in temporary settlements for the displaced, is sanitation. To help address this issue, UNICEF and its implementing partners have accelerated latrine construction, with more than 9,000 units installed since January.
UNICEF has also supported the training of some 2,200 individuals to visit affected areas and teach proper hygiene practices, such as handwashing with soap.
On the crucial topic of child protection, UNICEF has taken a range of measures, including efforts to ensure that children who are being moved across international borders are not trafficked or exposed to other risks. The organization and its partners have assessed thousands of these cases, with dozens of children reunited with their families as a result.
A boy fills a small plastic container with water from a spigot at a tent settlement for people displaced by the earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
Massive effort to reopen schools
Meanwhile, there is perhaps no area with greater room for improvement than education. Before 12 January, only 45 per cent of primary school-aged Haitian children attended school. Even fewer have returned to the classroom since the earthquake.
“Education is key,” says Ms. Gruloos-Ackermans. “We have to have all children at school and we have to have quality of education. It will be really complicated. It’s a long process and we have to be all together – partnering, not competing.”
In a massive effort to reopen schools, UNICEF has distributed about 1,300 school tents and has another 2,000 in the pipeline. For the longer term, UNICEF is supporting a team of construction engineers to work with government counterparts on semi-permanent and permanent school construction.
A Haiti fit for children
“I believe that Haiti can show examples to the world,” asserts Ms. Gruloos-Ackermans. “In child protection, it is possible. In education, it is possible. I dream about that.”
It is a beautiful and attainable vision as UNICEF crosses the six-month mark and works toward helping to create a Haiti fit for children.
“Drawing inspiration from their resilience and hope for the future,” says Ms. Gruloos-Ackermans, “UNICEF remains committed to helping Haitians realize the dream that every child will grow up with access to the full range of services they need to survive and thrive – reaching their full potential to contribute meaningfully to the development of their nation.”