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At a glance: Haiti

Haiti prepares for another hurricane season

© UNICEF/NYHQ2008-0876/LeMoyne
A child holds onto a woman carrying a baby as they make their way across a flooded street in the port city of Gonaives, after successive hurricanes and tropical storms battered Haiti in 2008.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, 8 September 2009 – Several tropical depressions have already formed in the Caribbean this summer, but Haiti is better prepared today than in 2008, when four major hurricanes slammed into the island.

The colossal impact of those successive weather emergencies pushed the government and international aid agencies to their limits. About 800,000 people, including some 300,000 children, were displaced during last year’s hurricane season. Homes and crops were also destroyed.

To prepare for the 2009 season, UNICEF and other UN agencies and partners have devised contingency plans to meet the needs of children and families at various levels of emergency. These plans were designed using evaluations of last year’s devastating storms.

‘We started at zero’

Gonaïves, Haiti’s third largest city, had not fully recovered from the flooding caused by Hurricane Jeanne in 2004 when Hurricane Hannah struck in September 2008. UNICEF and its partners took the lead in restoring safe drinking water to the city’s 300,000 inhabitants after massive flooding destroyed the water supply system.

“In terms of coverage, we started at zero,” said UNICEF Water and Sanitation Specialist Julien Kossi Atchade. “We’ve rehabilitated 400 wells and today provide approximately 25 litres of safe drinking water per person a day.”

Meanwhile, emergency supplies have been positioned in key districts. And a network of partners has been set up to distribute the supplies, which range from tents to water purification tablets, hygiene kits, blankets, health kits, cooking sets and portable water systems.

Emergency preparations also involve planning to help children deal with the emotional impact of such tragic experiences. 

© UNICEF/NYHQ2008-0875/LeMoyne
A boy carrying a bucket of water, and accompanied by a girl, walks across a mud-choked street in the flood-damaged port city of Gonaives, Haiti.

Psycho-social care

It was 2 a.m. on 7 September 2008 when Hurricane Ike – the fourth major storm to hit Haiti last year – made landfall in the Cabaret region north of Port-au-Prince. Entire households, animals and debris were swept away in the rushing waters.

“The children here are still traumatized,” said Child Specialist Simon Sarcia of the Association of Volunteers in International Service, a UNICEF partner based in Italy. “They’re afraid of going to sleep after dark. They wake up screaming in the middle of the night.”

Last year, UNICEF partners set to work in the worst-affected areas to provide psycho-social care for children. These efforts continue today, and trained volunteers are ready to mobilize psycho-social support and protection for any children that end up in shelters this year. 
Lessons learned

The 2008 hurricanes struck right at the start of the school year. Nearly 1,000 schools were destroyed, affecting 200,000 school-aged children.

In the aftermath, shelters had to double as schools. Today, specific sites are already identified to serve as potential temporary schools, and UNICEF education kits are ready to be distributed on short notice.

Nutrition evaluation tools are also in place for early assessments on the immediate needs of infants and pregnant mothers.  

“All of us – the agencies, the government and all our partners – quickly assessed the needs and implemented the lessons learned from 2008,” said Mr. Kossi Atchade. “We have a coordinated response in place. Compared to last year, we’re better prepared.”



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