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Threat of disease spread increases in wake of Hurricane Tomas

By Ben Steinlechner

Port-Au-Prince, 7 November 2010 – Residents of this small Caribbean island awoke today to assess the impact of Hurricane Tomas, which came perilously close to adding even greater misery to a nation already reeling from the impacts of the recent cholera outbreak and the January 12 earthquake.


In the aftermath of the storm, UNICEF is conducting on-site assessments to prepare for additional allocations of supplies as well as human resources in those most affected areas.


Flooding greatly increases the risk of the spread of diseases such as cholera, which has already claimed the lives of 501 people and hospitalized 7,359.


UNICEF is especially concerned about the impact of flooding in the north- west of the country, the epicenter of the cholera outbreak. The city of Gonaives, in the cholera-stricken area, was severely flooded by the storm, increasing the risk of the spread of cholera.


Christopher Jean-Felix, one of the many young residents of Mais Gate IDP camp in Port-au-Prince, said he worried about the storm forcing water into the temporary shelter that has been his home since the January earthquake.


“My tent has already been flooded several times,” said Christopher, one of an estimated 1.3 million people living in IDP camps since the earthquake. “When it floods, everything gets wet, my clothes too. I can’t sleep when it rains.”


Despite his meager living conditions, Christopher is lucky his family’s tent was not lashed by torrential wind and rains as most residents of Haiti had feared. Other residents of IDP camps in flood-prone parts of Haiti were not as fortunate.


Hurricane winds and water caused flooding in Haiti’s five southern departments and in other regions including Artibonite, Centre, North West, and the communities of Léogane and Gressier, west of Port-au-Prince. Heavy rains and severe flooding have also occurred in upper Artibonite with as much as one meter at the height of the storm centimeters of standing water reported in Gonaïves, north of the Artibonite River.


In preparation for such an emergency, UNICEF had prepositioned medical, sanitation, and nutritional supplies throughout flood-endangered areas of Haiti, including Artibonite, Centre, North West, and the communities of Léogane and Gressier, west of Port-au-Prince. Large parts of the city of Léogane have been flooded by over-flowing river banks, affecting approximately 15 IDP camps, home to thousands of people.


“UNICEF has already prepositioned wash items such as jerry cans, soap, aquatabs and buckets for 900 families in the affected areas two days ago,” says Ben Harvey, Deputy Coordinator of the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene(WASH) Cluster.


“This now allows us to immediately assist those affected by the hurricane. But we’ll be assessing what the needs are beyond these immediate supplies.”


A day before the arrival of hurricane Tomas residents of IDP camps had braced themselves for yet another potential natural disaster.


Hundreds of thousands of women, children, and men have been living in tents since being forced to abandon demolished or unsafe habitations soon after the earthquake. Children, women, fathers, mothers, and the elderly have been living in close quarters even as the hurricane season’s strong winds and rain ravaged their shelters.


In response to the approaching hurricane, some families used their savings to buy wood to reinforce their tents. Neighbors worked together dismantling them and replacing the poles with stronger ones.


“The wood to reinforce our tents is very expensive,” says Peterson Montinat,” a resident of Mais Gate IDP camp. “Not all the families can afford it and we are not even sure it helps much.”


Within the camp, Jerry Templar Blanchard, 17, a resident, gazes down at the smelly brown water flowing in ditches around tents.


“I’m very happy that there was no major flooding here. I am scared of cholera,” he says. “We didn’t have any cases in the camp so far but it could happen any day.”


For more information

Jean Jacques Simon, jsimon@unicef.org, UNICEF Haiti

Tamar Hahn, thahn@unicef.org, UNICEF Latin America and the Caribbean





UNICEF is on the ground in over 155 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.


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