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At a glance: Haiti

UNICEF gears up relief efforts for earthquake-stricken Haiti

© Eduardo Munoz/Reuters
A child receives medical treatment after being injured in the earthquake in Port-au-Prince. The 7.0-magnitude quake rocked Haiti, killing possibly thousands of people as it toppled the presidential palace and hillside shanties alike, and left the already impoverished Caribbean nation appealing for international aid.

NEW YORK, USA, 13 January 2010 – Despite heavy damage to its own offices in Port-au-Prince, UNICEF is ready to provide immediate support to the victims of the unfolding humanitarian crisis following the earthquake that hit Haiti yesterday.

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"While relief efforts have begun, communications are extremely difficult and accurate information is still scarce," UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman said in a statement this morning. "It is clear that the consequences are severe and many children are among the victims," she added. "Our hearts go out to the families whose lives have been so terribly impacted by this tragedy."

Listen to UNICEF spokesman Patrick McCormick on protecting Haiti's "most vulnerable" (external link, opens in a new window).

Veneman noted that UNICEF will deploy essential aid – including safe water, sanitation supplies, therapeutic foods, medical supplies and temporary shelter materials – as quickly as possible to assist with recovery efforts. "We will also be focusing on children who have become separated from their families to protect them from harm or exploitation," she said. 

Constant struggle

The situation of children and women in Haiti was already marked by great vulnerability before the earthquake hit the island. Haiti is one of the poorest countries on earth. It ranks 148th out of 179 countries on the UNDP’s Human Development Index; is struggling to recover from years of violence, insecurity and instability; and has a long history of being struck by one natural disaster after another.

© 2009/USGS
United States Geological Survey ShakeMap for the 12 January 2010 Haiti earthquake.

Haiti’s income distribution is highly skewed, with only one in every 50 Haitians holding a steady, wage-earning job. Access to services is highly unequal: the poorer the child is, the less likely he or she is to have access to basic rights. Far too many Haitian children and women are engaged in a struggle for their right to basic necessities like adequate nutrition, clean water, education and protection from violence.

Haiti also has the second-highest population density in the western hemisphere, with an estimated 46 per cent of the population under the age of 18. The struggle of Haitian children reverberates throughout the society and is bound to have serious consequences far into the future.

This latest catastrophe follows a severe hurricane season in 2008 from which the country is still struggling to recover.

With so many people living in such close quarters – and with access to safe water and sanitation severely compromised even in the best of times – vulnerability to life-threatening, waterborne diseases can skyrocket when a natural disaster strikes. So, too, can difficulties in delivering much-needed food, medical supplies and protection services. Children are the ones most likely to suffer the worst consequences.



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