Haiti’s enormous challenges seven months after the earthquake
UNICEF is working to its inhabitants can return to normality after the earthquake.
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The fragile nutritional status of children, lack of drinking water, reconstruction of homes and schools... UNICEF’s Representative in Haiti shares the daunting work to be done to get the country’s people back to normal after the earthquake.
Just a few weeks ago I met Berenson, a nine-year-old boy from a remote community in southern Haiti. I was touched by his story. Most of the children in his community do not attend school, except for a few lessons taught by volunteers who travel to the community. To get medical care, they have to travel by scooter for several kilometres.
When the earthquake struck Haiti’s southern peninsula on 14 August 2021, we could not have foreseen the extent of the damage. It affected 800,000 people, including 340,000 children, caused more than 2,200 deaths and turned basic infrastructure into rubble, including the school and health centre in Berenson’s community, which remains without stable electricity.
Before the earthquake, Haiti’s children were already suffering from high rates of malnutrition, displacement caused by gang violence and secondary impacts of COVID-19. But right now, their needs are more pressing than ever, as entire families have lost everything, including homes, schools, access to water and sanitation facilities.
Today, seven months after the earthquake, significant progress has been made in a context of extreme difficulty, amid political and social upheaval, and with armed gangs taking control of key roads for delivering supplies. But the challenges remain immense in basic areas such as health, water, sanitation and hygiene, protection, education, psychosocial support and malnutrition.
UNICEF has been at the forefront of the response since the first hours after the natural disaster. In less than 24 hours, six emergency teams were dispatched to southern Haiti with essential medicines and supplies for 30,000 people. Twenty-four mobile clinics were deployed in 18 remote municipalities to provide health and nutritional care to 52,000 people, while expanding access to COVID-19 vaccination.
Our teams distributed nearly 23,000 hygiene kits, including soap, household water treatment products and menstrual hygiene kits for 121,000 people, and provided access to clean water to nearly half a million people.
Their needs are more pressing than ever, as entire families have lost everything, including homes, schools, access to water and sanitation facilities.
Together with partners and allies, we have helped reunite 171 unaccompanied or separated children with their families and provided psychosocial support, food and hygiene to more than 500 vulnerable families.
More than 19,000 young children have benefited from psychosocial and recreational activities in 50 child-friendly spaces to help them regain some sense of normalcy after the trauma they have suffered.
Countless efforts have also been made to reopen schools in the southern region, such as the one in Berenson’s remote community. We have committed to build 900 classrooms in 150 schools, in collaboration with local NGOs and private companies. To date, 230 learning spaces are under construction in 38 schools. And we have distributed 74,000 school kits and 1,600 educational kits to students and teachers in 297 schools.
I would like to thank the donors who have accompanied us during these seven months and appeal to the international community to maintain this momentum of solidarity and continue to support us, so that every child in Haiti can survive and thrive. They know that UNICEF will never give up.
*Bruno Maes is UNICEF’s Representative in Haiti.
Published in El País on 13 March 2022.