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Haiti braces for peak of hurricane season 2009. A true “lessons learned” effort

Port-au-Prince, September 2, 2009 - Several tropical depressions have formed in the Caribbean already this year, but Haiti is better prepared today then in 2008 when four consecutive major hurricanes slammed the island.  The colossal impact pushed the government and international agencies to the brink of capacity to handle the multiple emergencies. 800,000 people were displaced—among them 300,000 children, scores of schools, homes, and crops were destroyed.  No one was prepared for the onslaught.

Within the context of the Government of Haiti’s new National Strategy for Risks and Disasters plan for 2009, UNICEF and the UN agencies and partners devised contingency plans to meet the needs at various levels of emergency based on evaluations of last year’s devastating season.

Gonaives, Haiti’s third largest city, had not fully recovered from Hurricane Jeanne’s massive floods in 2004, when Hurricane Hannah’s 105mph winds wiped out the city again in September 2008. Massive flooding destroyed the entire water supply system. Along with its partners (OXFAM GB, CARE and ACF), UNICEF took the lead in restoring safe drinking water to Gonaives’ 30,000 inhabitants and children.  “In terms of coverage, we started at zero. We’ve rehabilitated 400 wells and today provide approximately 25 liters of safe drinking water per person a day,” says Atchade.

Emergency supplies provided by UNICEF ranging from tents to water purification tablets, hygiene kits, blankets, health kits, cooking sets, and portable water systems have been pre-positioned in six key departments throughout Haiti (South, SouthEast, North, NorthOuest and Central).  A network of NGOs partners has been set up to handle onsite distribution of supplies stocked at WFP warehouses.

But emergency preparations do not only involve prepositioning supplies. In countries prone to natural disasters like Haiti, children are the most vulnerable victims with  emotional impact and scars of tragic experiences running deep.

It was two a.m. when Hurricane Ike, last year’s fourth and last hurricane, furiously pounded  Cabaret, while the town slept. Families, children, animals, debris were swept away in the rushing waters in the middle of the night. “The children here are still traumatized,” says Simon Sarcia, a psycho-social child specialist with AVSI, UNICEF’s child protection Italian partner. “They’re afraid of going to sleep after dark. They wake up screaming in the middle of the night.” 

The horrors still haunt parents as well. Of the 70 casualties, 11 were children. UNICEF implemented a network of partners working in the worst hit areas to provide psycho-social care for the children, which continues to this day. Trained volunteers are standing by ready to mobilize quickly to provide psycho-social support and protection to children in shelters.
Last year’s hurricanes struck right at the start of the school year. Nearly 1,000 schools were destroyed, affecting 200,000 school age children. In the aftermath, shelters doubled as schools.  Today, specific sites are already identified to serve as potential temporary schools and UNICEF education kits have been set aside, ready to be distributed on short notice. Nutrition evaluation tools are in place for early assessments on the immediate needs for infants and pregnant mothers.  

“Our preparation for Hurricane Season 2009 is a true “Lessons Learned” effort  at its best” says Julien Kossi Atchade, UNICEF’s Water and Sanitation Cluster specialist. “All of us –the agencies, the government and all our partners quickly assessed the needs and implemented the lessons learned from 2008. We have a coordinated response in place. Compared to last year, we’re better prepared.”

No one here is taking any risks.  Marking the start of the official hurricane season this past June, the Haitian government has taken every step to keep the population informed on preventive and safety measures through a series of public awareness spots on radio and television as well as advisories from its own hurricane watch center. 

For more information
Ingrid Arnesen, iarnesen@unicef.org, UNICEF Haiti;
Tamar Hahn, thahn@unicef.org; UNICEF Latin America and the Caribbean.


UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence.  The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS.  UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.

About our partners
OXFAM GB, www.oxfam.org.uk
CARE, www.care.org
ACF, www.actionagainsthunger.org/
AVSI, http://www.avsi.org/


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