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At a glance: Haiti

Amidst ongoing cholera crisis, UNICEF and partners respond to hurricane threat in Haiti

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-2414/Dormino
Haitians cross a flooded street in Leogane, 30 km south-east of Port-au-Prince, as heavy rains and strong winds from Hurricane Tomas begin to hit the area.

By Ben Steinlechner

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, 5 November 2010 – After the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti in January, coupled with a cholera epidemic over the past two weeks, Hurricane Tomas now poses yet another threat to the most vulnerable part of the country’s population – its children.

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“Haiti’s children have suffered one disaster on top of another this year,” Trayle Kulshan, UNICEF’s Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Cluster Coordinator, said yesterday. She was working on storm preparations in the cholera-stricken Artibonite region north of Port-au-Prince and other areas outside the capital.

“One group of children that we really do worry about are the children who have been abandoned in the residential centres,” said UNICEF Representative in Haiti Françoise Gruloos-Ackermans, referring to children who were orphaned or separated from their families by the quake. “We will be evacuating them if they’re at risk,” she added in a telephone interview with UNICEF Radio. “It’s really about the poorest of the poorest.”

Danger of floods and mudslides

The hurricane has not directly hit Port-au-Prince, where families displaced by the earthquake and living in tent camps would be highly exposed and endangered. However, heavy rains from the storm could trigger floods and mudslides in populated areas, and high winds could damage or destroy makeshift tent shelters.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-2423/Dormino
As storm clouds approach, children stand in front of makeshift tents at the Mais Gate camp for people still displaced by the January earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

“We are concerned that there will be flooding and that some towns and villages will be difficult to reach,” said Ms. Kulshan.

Even without the effects of Hurricane Tomas, getting supplies to remote areas the in Artibonite region and elsewhere poses logistical challenges. In advance of the storm, UNICEF pre-positioned additional health, nutrition, water, sanitation and hygiene supplies in areas that risk being isolated.

“Right now, UNICEF and other humanitarian actors are responding to a range of complex emergencies, including the earthquake, the cholera outbreak, and now the concern that the [hurricane] will bring heavy rain and flooding,” said Ms. Kulshan.

Worst-case scenarios

UNICEF, the Pan American Health Organization, the World Health Organization, the World Food Programme and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs have been developing plans for worst-case scenarios with the Haitian Government. These scenarios could include floodwaters contaminating waters systems and distribution points, and spreading cholera to parts of Haiti that haven’t been affected so far.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-2417/Dormino
Workers unload emergency medical supplies at the airport in Port-au-Prince, as UNICEF responds to the cholera outbreak that has killed hundreds and hospitalized thousands in Haiti.

Although UNICEF and its partners have been working around the clock to contain the cholera outbreak, it has claimed more than 440 lives and led to the hospitalization of over 6,700 Haitians to date.
“There are so many risks of cholera being spread,” said Ms. Gruloos-Ackermans. “These are big risks that we are facing.”

Cholera response

Together with its partners, UNICEF has responded to the cholera outbreak in the Artibonite region by providing local health centres with life-saving medical supplies. It has also organized the rapid supply of liquid chlorine from local producers in the south of Haiti to provide safe water in Artibonite’s health centres and schools.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-2420/Dormino
As Hurricane Tomas approaches Haiti, a woman works to reinforce her makeshift tent at Mais Gate camp in Port-au-Prince, the capital.

Aquatabs for water purification, as well as soap and oral rehydration salts, have been distributed to some 88,000 people in areas affected by cholera. Meanwhile, a campaign to promote hygiene – featuring handwashing demonstrations and cell-phone messages on cholera prevention – has supplemented UNICEF’s supply operations.

Tim Ledwith contributed to this story from New York.




5 November 2010: UNICEF Radio talks with UNICEF Representative in Haiti Françoise Gruloos-Ackermans about the dangers posed by Hurricane Tomas in areas already affected by the earthquake and cholera outbreak.
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