|© AP Photo/Arduengo|
|People gather at a makeshift shelter in Port-au-Prince in the aftermath of the earthquake that flattened the presidential palace, the city’s cathedral, hospitals, schools, the main prison and whole neighbourhoods.|
NEW YORK, USA, 13 January 2010 – The first shipment of UNICEF supplies for survivors of yesterday’s devastating earthquake is on its way to Haiti. The emergency aid is urgently needed, as basic services and infrastructure in the western hemisphere’s poorest nation were already close to collapse even before the 7.0-magnitude quake struck.
With support from the Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, which is providing air transport, essential supplies from the UNICEF Regional Office in Panama City are being flown to the Dominican Republic tonight. They will be transported overland to the hard-hit Haitian capital tomorrow.
The airlifted items include 10,000 tarpaulins, 4,600 water containers, 5.5 million water-purification tablets, 556,000 oral rehydration sachets and other supplies to meet the basic needs of up to 10,000 families. Supply shipments for an additional 20,000 families are in the works for the coming days.
Based on early reports, it’s clear that the earthquake and some 40 aftershocks have left immense suffering in a country that is ill-equipped to cope even at the best of times. Schools, homes and roads have been destroyed, and there are not enough medical facilities to treat the injured.
|© AP Photo/Arduengo|
|An injured girl lies on the side of the road as she is attended to the day after an earthquake hit Port-au-Prince.|
The epicentre of the quake was just 17 km from Port-au-Prince. As a result, said UNICEF Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean Bernt Aasen, “the destruction in the city is unbelievable. We don’t have any indication yet of the number of people killed or injured, but we’re talking about thousands. This is a big disaster for Haiti.”
UNICEF’s priority is to make sure Haitian children get essential help as soon as possible.
“The most important supplies we are sending in now are family kits, [which] have cooking equipment and everything a family needs,” said Mr. Aasen. “Then we will need to send in medical supplies, and UNICEF has standard medical kits that have all the medicines we know are needed in this situation.”
Since adequate nutrition and access to safe water are critical to children’s survival after such disasters, shipments of therapeutic foods and collapsible water tanks are also being planned.
On the ground in Jacmel
When the quake struck yesterday at around 5 p.m. local time, UNICEF Representative in Haiti Guido Cornale was in the coastal city of Jacmel – about three hours’ drive from the capital.
"It was one of the most powerful quakes I have ever had in my life. I experienced hell. It was very violent, very brief, very noisy," he said.
|© AP Photo/Cruz|
|People stand on rubble along Delmas Road the day after a 7.0-magnitude earthquake hit Port-au-Prince, Haiti.|
This morning, Mr. Cornale joined civil defense and district government officials in Jacmel to assess the damage. He saw people being pulled from the rubble of destroyed buildings; some had survived with injuries, while others had been killed. The UNICEF Representative estimated that about 20 per cent of the buildings in the city of 50,000 were destroyed.
Throughout the day, Mr. Cornale was sporadically in contact with colleagues in Port-au-Prince, where UNICEF’s offices were badly damaged. He was concerned for their well-being, noting: “We are not sure that all our staff is safe.”
Determined to respond
Meanwhile, in a statement to UNICEF’s Executive Board, which is meeting in New York this week, Executive Director Ann M. Veneman reaffirmed the agency’s determination to respond effectively to the crisis in Haiti despite the many challenges ahead.
"Expert estimates suggest that 46 per cent of Haiti’s nearly 10 million people are under 18 years of age,” she said. “The special needs of children for food, shelter and protection must be factored in at the very outset of relief efforts, and UNICEF will do everything in its power to make sure these needs are met.”
13 January 2010: From Jacmel, Haiti, UNICEF Representative Guido Cornale speaks to UNICEF Radio about the devastating effects of yesterday's earthquake.
BBC video: "Children 'most vulnerable' after Haiti quake, says UNICEF"
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