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At a glance: Haiti

UNICEF overcomes logistical challenges to help hundreds of thousands in Haiti

Responding to the children's emergency in Haiti

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-0093/LeMoyne
A child plays with materials from a UNICEF-supplied recreation kit at the Foyer L'Escale children's shelter, an interim care centre for up to 100 unaccompanied children, on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

By Chris Niles

NEW YORK, USA, 28 January 2010 – More than two weeks after a powerful earthquake struck Haiti, UNICEF's emergency relief effort is reaching hundreds of thousands of survivors. As of last night, 13 planes had brought health, nutrition, and water-and-sanitation supplies to Haiti and the neighbouring Dominican Republic.

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Aid was slow at first because the destruction took an enormous toll on Haiti's already poorly served communities, resulting in a double disaster for the country.

"When the earthquake hit the most populated area of the country, it not only destroyed hundreds of thousands of lives but also anything that was left in terms of infrastructure," said UNICEF Director of Emergency Programmes Louis-Georges Arsenault. "The UN was very badly hit as well, so our capacity on the ground was absolutely minimal."

Improved capacity

Working with other UN agencies, the government and non-governmental organizations, UNICEF has taken the lead in water-and-sanitation assistance in the earthquake zone.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-0094/LeMoyne
Benoit,7, accompanied by a staff member from a UNICEF NGO partner, arrives at the Foyer L'Escale children's shelter on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince. Benoit believes that his parents were killed in the earthquake that struck Haiti on 12 January.

More than 130 distribution points have been set up in the capital, Port-au-Prince, supplying water to over 300,000 people. Latrines have been built for some of the many thousands of people living in temporary shelters.

"For the first time, I can say with some comfort that the logistical capacity that we have on the ground to provide larger-scale distribution ... is improving substantially," said Mr. Arsenault.

Focus on children's needs

All the while, UNICEF's focus remains on the needs of children. The aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti is a children's emergency; nearly 40 per cent of all Haitians are under the age of 14, and many of them are at risk.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-0094/LeMoyne
A woman struggles to set up a makeshift shelter, using assorted pieces of cloth, at a tent camp on a football pitch near the Port-au-Prince airport, one of an estimated 500 improvised settlements that are now home to thousands of earthquake survivors in the Haitian capital.

Now that search and rescue operations are in their final stages and more aid is coming in, it is vital that vulnerable children receive what they need.

"The government is working in tandem with UNICEF in order to make an assessment of the number of children who may be in need," said the Permanent Ambassador of Haiti to the United Nations, Hon. Léo Mérorès.

"But already, for those who have been rescued, appropriate steps are being taken by UNICEF, jointly with the government, in order to care for them," he added.

'We've got to do it right'

The steps referenced by Ambassador Mérorès include initiatives to preserve children's health and improve their safety and security. For example:

  • Safe spaces have been set up for unaccompanied children, especially those in displacement settlements and orphanages. Specific attention is being given to the youngest children.
  • To ward off any increases in acute malnutrition, children under five are getting therapeutic and supplementary feeding, as well as general rations.
  • Next week, UNICEF and partners will begin an immunization campaign for 600,000 children under five living in temporary shelters, to protect them against measles, diphtheria and tetanus.

International actors, including UNICEF, are also looking to Haiti's future – and the opportunity that the earthquake has presented to transform the poverty-stricken nation and improve future prospects for its children and families.

"With the political will, and I believe it exists right now, the resources shouldn't be a problem," said Mr. Arsenault. "Globally, people are committed to supporting the people of Haiti, so we've got to do it right."




28 January 2010: UNICEF correspondent Chris Niles reports on how UNICEF's relief effort is progressing, more than two weeks after Haiti's earthquake.
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27 January 2010: The Permanent Ambassador of Haiti to the United Nations, Hon. Léo Mérorès, discusses the needs of unaccompanied children.
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