|With no safe water to drink a young girl salvages soda from a flooded grocery store|
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NEW YORK, 27 September 2004 – The death toll in storm-struck Haiti is rising and UNICEF says disease and continuing violence are the biggest threats to children. At least 1,500 people are reported dead and many more are missing.
Tropical storm Jeanne hit the island two weeks ago but the country is still struggling to recover. Hundreds of thousands of adults and children are living on roof tops or have been forced to seek shelter in schools and churches.
UNICEF’s emergency officer in Haiti, Giovanni Riccardi Candiani, has spent several days in the northern city of Gonaives, and says a lack of organisation at these makeshift centres is making children vulnerable to abuse.
“We are very much concerned about the collective centres since so far they are not organised,” he says. “Our partners are working on that but we are worried about violence inside the centres.”
|The devastation left by tropical storm Jeanne could take months to clean up|
Children and women are most at risk in such situations and Mr Riccardi Candiani says others often take what children need most – water and medicine. UNICEF is making it a priority with its partners to set up a system that will protect children taking refuge inside collective centres.
UNICEF has helped to set up 20 shelters around Gonaives and is working to provide clean water, food and medicines. The organisation has sent more than 400,000 sachets of water purification powder and high protein biscuits, to keep women and children hydrated and fed.
UNICEF Communication Officer Sylvana Nzirorera says it is a race against time to prevent the outbreak of diseases such as cholera or typhoid.
|Providing clean drinking water is a UNICEF priority in Haiti|
This is a big concern, not only for UNICEF but also for the government and other humanitarian organisations. We have to work quickly to not only get medicine, but to get the city clean. But cleaning the city is going to be very, very difficult, because the mud is really very high,” she said.
The problems in Haiti are exacerbated by a perceived lack of political leadership following the rebellion earlier this year. Flash floods in May killed around 2,000 people and the island is still coping with the aftermath of that disaster. Deforestation over many years means that even small storms can cause excessive damage because there are no trees to hold back mud and water.