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Press release

Caribbean storms hit children hard

Relief Supplies Being Delivered; Priority on Restoring Basic Services

PANAMA CITY / GENEVA, 21 September 2004 – As Haiti and the Dominican Republic begin to dig out from Hurricane Jeanne, UNICEF said today that it is rushing to help restore services to some of the Caribbean’s most vulnerable children as forecasters predict a continuing season of destructive storms throughout the region.

Speaking from Panama City, itself lashed by storms that killed nine children, UNICEF Deputy Regional Director Alfredo Missair said that widespread poverty and weak social services in the region mean that those most affected by the hurricanes are also those least well equipped to cope.

For the past ten days, hurricanes Ivan and Jeanne have battered Grenada, Jamaica, Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Panama, Cayman Islands and the Bahamas.

“Thousands of children have suffered from these storms. Some have lost their lives, many have been injured, and thousands have seen their homes and schools destroyed,” said Missair.  “Many people have an image of the Caribbean as a wealthy region, but it is really characterized by huge disparities of wealth, both between countries and especially within countries. Children have been hit the hardest by these hurricanes.”

UNICEF said its immediate priority is to provide immediate relief supplies and restore services for children. Many areas remain cut off, without access to food, clean water, and medical aid. Working closely with governments and international humanitarian and relief agencies, UNICEF said it is concentrating on preventing deadly diarrhea, rushing  medical supplies and water purification tablets to the hardest-hit communities, and providing children with psychosocial support and reopening schools.

In Grenada, Hurricane Ivan damaged or destroyed the country's 78 schools just as the nearly 30,000 school children began their school year.  UNICEF is working with the Ministry of Education and other partners to ensure that schools are cleared of hazardous debris.  UNICEF 'School in a Box' kits have begun to arrive, providing educational material for thousands of children.  'Sport-in-a-Box' kits are also arriving, a gift from FIFA, the world soccer body.

In Haiti, one of the world’s poorest countries, more than 300 people have been killed in mudslides touched off by Jeanne. 

"These children have just been through the worst experience of their lives," said Jean Gough, UNICEF Representative for Barbados and Eastern Caribbean. "School gives children a sense of safety and routine, and we will provide that for them as quickly as we can, whether the classroom is made out of plastic sheeting or concrete."

Children in Grenada account for more than 8,000 of the 20,000 left homeless, and who are now living in shelters. UNICEF estimates that between 80-90 per cent of health care centers and schools have been  damaged. In Jamaica and the Dominican Republic, tens of thousands have been forced to seek shelter after their homes were flooded or destroyed.

"Hurricane Ivan has exacted a heavy toll on Jamaican families," said Bertrand Bainvel, UNICEF's Representative in Jamaica. "UNICEF is very concerned about the lack of access to safe water nationwide and the psychological distress being manifested among children.   The situation is especially hard on parents who had already spent significant resources to prepare their children for the new school year, which started only three days before the hurricane warnings came." 

Apart from shipping relief supplies to victims of the hurricanes, UNICEF is coordinating with various Caribbean governments, other regionally based humanitarian relief agencies such as the IFRC, WFP, OCHA, Plan International and CDERA, the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response Agency, to prepare for the turbulent months ahead in which further storms are expected. 

UNICEF said that involving young people in the process of recovery is essential to their well-being.  In Grenada, for example, 600 teenagers are being trained by UNICEF to help thousands of children recover from the trauma and disorientation caused by Hurricane Ivan.  The ‘Return to Happiness’ program uses play, sports, theater, drawing and story-telling to get children to talk about what they have experienced and address their fears in a supportive setting.

UNICEF immediately reallocated funds from existing programs to provide relief supplies and has issued an appeal for more than $1 million to help the children of the Caribbean recover.

“To many in Europe and North America, the islands hit by these storms are thought of as holiday destinations,” said Nils Kastberg, UNICEF Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean.  “Now these islands need their urgent help.”

For further information, please contact:

Gordon Weiss, UNICEF Media, New York: (+1-212) 326-7426, gweiss@unicef.org
Robert Cohen, UNICEF Media, Panama: (+507) 676-3216, rcohen@unicef.org
Damien Personnaz, UNICEF Media, Geneva: (4122) 909-5716 dpersonnaz@unicef.org




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