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UNICEF in Emergencies & Humanitarian Action

As Hurricane Dean moves on, storm-affected communities pick up the pieces

Satellite image of Hurricane Dean on 22 August.

By Tim Ledwith

NEW YORK, USA, 22 August 2007 – UNICEF and its humanitarian partners in the Caribbean region are taking action to protect children and families from the after-effects of Hurricane Dean in Jamaica, Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula and other areas battered by the storm in recent days.

The hurricane, which has moved into the Gulf of Mexico, weakened after crossing land but is still expected to bring high winds and rain to central Mexico.

Early yesterday, as a Category 5 storm, it struck the Yucatan peninsula near the city of Chetumal. Reuters reported that Chetumal was left without electricity when sustained winds of 265 kilometres per hour knocked down power lines and trees. In neighbouring Belize, authorities said most of the country remained without power today.

Destruction in Jamaica
Before hitting Mexico, the hurricane passed just south of Jamaica on 19 August. Strong winds and heavy rain triggered mudslides, blocked roads, felled trees and power lines, and damaged roofs across a wide area.

“Some communities have been cut off because of landslides and water surges from the ocean,” UNICEF Representative in Jamaica Bertrand Bainvel said in a telephone interview.

“The most affected areas seem to be the eastern and southern parishes of Jamaica,” he continued. “We estimate up to 300,000 people affected, and up to 90,000 of those are children.”

© AP Photo/Leighton
Residents of the coastal Bullbay neighbourhood survey the damage from a storm surge that wiped out their property during Hurricane Dean’s pass just south of Jamaica on 19 August.

Meeting Jamaican children’s needs

UNICEF Jamaica has ordered relief supplies to aid the affected population, including emergency health kits and water containers, Mr. Bainvel said. Most of the island remains deprived of electricity and running water, he reported.

In the hurricane’s aftermath, UNICEF anticipates that the greatest needs will be in the areas of basic health, safe water and sanitation, psychosocial support and education for children in stricken areas. “Even though children are not in school now, they are expected to go back to school in September. We have to make sure schools affected and families preparing [for the new school year] are assisted,” said Mr. Bainvel.

UNICEF is also focused on protection of vulnerable children, whose needs and rights are often forgotten in emergency situations such as this, the UNICEF Representative noted.

Preparedness in Mexico

In another phone interview before the storm hit Yucatan, UNICEF Representative in Mexico Susana Sottoli explained that an emergency had been declared in three states – Quintana Roo, Yucatan and Campeche – as Hurricane Dean approached.

© Reuters/Romero
Workers board up the window of a school-turned-shelter in Tulum, in Mexico's state of Quintana Roo, as Hurricane Dean approaches.

“Fortunately, Mexico has a good emergency preparedness system,” said Ms. Sottoli. “The responsible authorities have been involved in activating that network, including pre-positioning supplies and shelters for potentially evacuated people.”

Mexican officials evacuated at least 80,000 tourists from the coastal region, Ms. Sottoli said. In Yucatan and Quintana Roo, meanwhile, approximately 1,200 shelters with capacity for more than 70,000 people were readied. Most of the shelters are located in schools.

Education could be disrupted

The school year, which was set to begin this week in some storm-affected areas of Mexico, has been postponed due to the hurricane emergency. In other areas, classes are scheduled to start next week.

Ms. Sottoli said UNICEF has activated its network of partners to be ready for a rapid assessment of children’s needs.

“After the assessment, we will dedicate ourselves to providing the children with psychological support to help them cope with the disaster,” she said. “And secondly, we are going to focus our energies on trying to get the children back to school as soon as possible. For that goal, we are preparing school supplies that children may need in order to resume classes.”

Blue Chevigny and Kun Li contributed to this story.




20 August 2007: UNICEF Representative in Jamaica Bertrand Bainvel reports on the impact of Hurricane Dean and the relief work of UNICEF and its partners in the wake of the storm.
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20 August 2007: UNICEF Representative in Mexico Susana Sottoli discusses the government’s emergency preparations and UNICEF’s possible response as Hurricane Dean approaches.
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Uniwiki reports

22 August 2007:
UNICEF Representative Bainvel, speaking by cell phone via the Uniwiki reporting system, gives an update on the crisis response to Hurricane Dean in Jamaica.
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21 August 2007:
UNICEF Representative Bainvel talks about relief efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Dean.
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17 August 2007:
UNICEF Representative Bainvel discusses emergency preparations for Hurricane Dean.
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