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At a glance: Haiti

UNICEF steps up efforts to protect child health and safety in Haiti quake zone

© UN Photo/Abass
Earthquake victims rest in a makeshift shelter set up in the parking lot of the general hospital in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

By Tim Ledwith

NEW YORK, USA, 17 January 2010 – Thousands have died, an unknown number are injured and an estimated 300,000 are homeless following the earthquake that struck Port-au-Prince and other densely populated areas of Haiti on 12 January, affecting a total of more than 3 million people.

Five days on, UNICEF and its partners are intensifying emergency operations to protect the health and safety of children at risk. One critical concern involves children who have become separated from their families and may find themselves without shelter, food, water or other basic necessities.

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To help meet the needs of these and other children in Haiti – where almost half the population is under 18 years of age – UNICEF is sending supplies to the quake zone as quickly as possible. Besides supplies that were already in the country, aid is coming from UNICEF's pre-positioned regional stocks in Panama. Additional shipments are being dispatched from the agency's central warehouse in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Focus on water and sanitation

Because children are particularly susceptible to diarrhoeal diseases, they urgently need access to safe water and proper sanitation in the immediate aftermath of disasters such as the Haiti earthquake.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-0009/Amézquita
Workers load UNICEF relief supplies for earthquake survivors onto a cargo plane at Tocumen Airport in Panama City, Panama, bound for Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital.

"Our major focus, in terms of supply, is water and sanitation," said UNICEF Senior Emergency Health Advisor Dr. Robin Nandy.

Due to the lack of sanitation in quake-stricken communities, added Dr. Nandy, "there's a huge risk of communicable diseases such as diarrhoea and measles. And this could cause a large amount of illness, as well as deaths, among women and children in particular."

Supplies and experts arrive

As part of the effort to help avert a second wave of deaths across Haiti, a DHL cargo plane carrying UNICEF water-and-sanitation supplies landed early Saturday morning in the capital, Port-au-Prince. It was the second such shipment to arrive there in 24 hours.

Water tanks and water-purification tablets were offloaded from the plane for distribution in concert with UNICEF's partners on the ground. The air shipment also contained oral rehydration salts, which can save children's lives by combating the effects of diarrhoeal dehydration. Two water-and-sanitation experts were on the flight as well.

Meanwhile, 5,000 litres of drinking water have reached residents of the coastal city of Jacmel, along with 2,500 kitchen kits for displaced families. The supplies were dispensed in coordination with the World Food Programme.

And beginning today, UNICEF and its partners will distribute 26 water bladders in badly affected areas. Haiti's main water companies are providing tanker trucks to fill the bladders, which can hold between 5,000 and 10,000 litres each.

More aid en route

Two more planes loaded with UNICEF aid for Haiti were scheduled to land this weekend in Santo Domingo, the capital of the neighbouring Dominican Republic. The planes are carrying essential medicines and shelter materials, among other needed items.

© UN Photo/Dormino
A displaced family washes in a public fountain near the Haitian National Palace in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where water supplies are severely limited.

Warehouse Supervisor Christian Dehoux was deployed on one of those flights, a British Airways plane bringing 40 metric tonnes of emergency relief from UNICEF's Supply Division in Copenhagen.

"We'll have some emergency kits, first-aid kits, a lot of tarpaulins for building shelters," he said as cargo was assembled for the flight late last week.

A history of hardship

Despite all of this accelerating activity, relief operations have only just begun in Haiti. That much, at least, is clear amidst the unimaginable death, injuries and damage to infrastructure in the Caribbean nation – which already faced extreme poverty and a serious humanitarian crisis before the earthquake hit.

To overcome the massive challenges ahead, UNICEF has appealled for $120 million to fund its Haiti crisis response over the next six months. The request to international donors was part of a wider UN appeal for $562 million.

Life-saving supplies and equipment are arriving to help ease the suffering of a people whose history is already too full of hardship. Getting those supplies to the children and families who desperately need them is UNICEF's highest priority.




15 January 2010: UNICEF Chief of Child Protection Susan Bissell discusses the need to keep children safe in the wake of the Haitian earthquake.
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UNICEF Senior Emergency Health Advisor Robin Nandy discusses the child health ramifications of the Haitian earthquake.
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Warehouse Supervisor Christian Dehoux of UNICEF's Supply Division in Copenhagen discusses the division's relief efforts for Haiti.
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