Over 1,2 million children affected by ETA across Central America
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PANAMA CITY, 11 November 2020 - Several days of torrential rains and catastrophic flooding caused by Tropical Storm Eta have devastated the lives of more than 1.2 million children across Central America, according to UNICEF estimates based on official reports. In days, this estimated number has been rising sharply and is still expected to increase as rescue teams gain access to the most affected areas.
“Across Central America, more and more children have seen their lives swept away by these devastating floods in the past few days,” said Bernt Aasen, UNICEF Regional Director a.i. for Latin America and the Caribbean. “Families who lost their homes were stranded on roofs, blocked in inundated areas without electricity and cut off from the rest of their communities. Many are still being evacuated into shelters. We only expect needs to grow in the coming days as we are still far from having a full picture of the extent of damage across the region,” he added.
Last week, Eta hit Nicaragua as a Category 4 hurricane and weakened to a Tropical Depression before entering Honduras. Across Central America, strong winds and heavy rains partially or severely damaged critical infrastructure such as hospitals, schools, bridges, roads and water systems. Remote communities suffering from the socio-economic consequences of COVID-19 are particularly vulnerable as they are now facing the double impact of the pandemic and the tropical storm.
UNICEF estimates that over 110,000 people, including around 44,000 children, have been evacuated to temporary shelters across seven affected countries, namely Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Belize, Panama, Costa Rica and El Salvador.
“I saw my house collapsing so I went to a shelter,” explained John Dell, a 13-year-old boy from Bilwi, one of the most affected regions in the north Caribbean coast of Nicaragua. “I felt bad, I have nothing left. I don't have a school uniform. All my shirts and pants are gone. I would like to get my house back and receive food and water.”
Working with national authorities and partners in countries hit by Eta, UNICEF teams on the ground started delivering life-saving supplies to evacuated families, including hygiene kits, water tanks, disinfection tablets, tests for water quality monitoring and recreational kits.
Immediate response actions also include the setting up of temporary shelters with safe spaces for displaced children, provision of emergency mental health and psychosocial support services for children and families, and support for gender-based violence survivors to access basic services.
“Access to quality water and sanitation has become seriously problematic in the areas most hit by Eta,” said Bernt Aasen. “Now the risk of waterborne diseases for children is increasing as is the risk of COVID-19 spread in shelters. One of our growing concerns is how to provide more life-saving assistance to families affected by the tropical storm without exposing them or humanitarian workers to the pandemic.”
Across all Latin American and Caribbean countries, UNICEF also continues its support to curb the increasing number of COVID-19 by distributing Personal Protection Equipments (PPEs) to frontline health workers and hygiene items for the most vulnerable children and families.
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