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At a glance: Haiti

UNICEF and ECHO prepare for a new storm season in Haiti

© UNICEF/NYHQ2008-1419/LeMoyne
Girls carry containers to collect water from a kiosk in Gonaives. Since the city’s water system was destroyed by successive tropical storms and hurricanes, its residents have relied on water purification and delivery by UNICEF, with assistance from ECHO and other partners.

By Chris Niles

NEW YORK, USA, 4 June 2009 – This year’s Atlantic storm season began on Monday and many forecasters are expecting that it will not be as intense as last year, which saw 16 tropical storms and eight hurricanes.

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Haiti was particularly hard hit. Nearly 800 people were killed and about 800,000 people displaced. The damage to services and infrastructure was estimated at almost one billion dollars. The European Commission Humanitarian Aid department (ECHO) donated more than 400,000 dollars to UNICEF to provide safe water, sanitation and hygiene services to storm victims. 

Intensifying efforts

This year, UNICEF and ECHO are intensifying their efforts to effectively and promptly respond to emergencies.

Pre-positioned supplies have been stocked in warehouses across the country. And UNICEF is identifying emergency shelters in every district.  The European Commission has reopened its Haiti office so that it can work more closely with its partners.

In a country as fragile as Haiti, prompt response is more crucial than ever. Last year, UNICEF and ECHO were able to ensure that the storm’s toll was not compounded by disease.

Unsafe drinking water

“Bad water is almost as bad as no water at all. Dehydration can kill a child literally in hours – not days,” said UNICEF Water and Sanitation coordinator Steve Abbott.

Even without a vicious storm season, Haiti sits on a knife’s edge. Its people are the poorest in the Western Hemisphere. Almost all of its trees have been cut down for fuel. This made the effects of the 2008 storm season much worse, for even though it was not directly in the path of the storms, the city of Gonaives was buried in mud that had to be mostly dug out by hand.

Houses filled with mud

“It was not so much seeing destroyed houses. It’s very impressive to see how many houses are being destroyed. Those houses are still filled with mud up to the ceiling,” said ECHO Director General, Peter Zangl, after visiting Gonaives in the wake of the storm.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2008-1434/LeMoyne
ECHO Director-General Peter Zangl in Port-au-Prince after visiting Gonaives, which was devastated by tropical storm Hanna in 2008.

Mr. Zangl’s trip marked the beginning of a new effort to ease the suffering of Haitians.

“We have decided to come back more substantially to Haiti with a project dealing with malnutrition, health and water,” Mr. Zangl said.

Soaring food prices

Soaring food prices and social unrest have added to those challenges, making a permanent ECHO presence a necessity. Its office was reopened earlier this year. 

“When you put all these factors together the situation became chronically alarming on humanitarian aspects. That has justified reopening the office – to be able to assess the needs and the situation, and to respond accordingly. And to offer to the ECHO partners and the population a greater and closer monitoring from the humanitarian office,” said ECHO Haiti Representative Damien Berrendorf.




1 June 2009: UNICEF correspondent Chris Niles reports on what UNICEF and ECHO are doing to help Haiti prepare for this year’s storm season.
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