Port-au-Prince, 7 September 2017 – It is calm outside. As clouds are gathering an eerie tranquility reigns in the streets. There is little traffic since schools have been closed as a precautionary measure; businesses were open this morning but by midafternoon everything has closed down. Everyone is waiting..
In this atmosphere of sweltering expectation the UNICEF team is working at full speed. Both in the central office in Port-au-Prince where we have only a minimum of staff working today to reduce the risk of exposure, and in the North where program specialists support the Government in getting things ready on the ground. Everyone pushes forward to get a maximum done as long as this is possible; setting the stage so that help for children can start as soon as Irma has passed.
Irma is moving towards the West at a speed of 24 km/h, with torrential rain, storm surges and life-threatening winds along her path. Tales of destruction have started to trickle in from islands on her way. In Barbuda ninety per cent of all buildings are reported as destroyed or severely damaged; telecommunication systems in the island are down and power supply remains off. Covering a space the size of France Irma keeps barreling in our direction, coming closer one turn at a time.
4 Million people live in the four departments that are most at risk of the current trajectory, approximately 40 percent are children under 18 years old. Being already vulnerable in ‘normal’ settings, children and women are always the most vulnerable in disaster. They are our priority when Irma hits Haiti, and the efficiency of our response will be key to reaching a maximum of children, fast. Everything is done under the leadership of the Government, and UNICEF is actively supports the coordination mechanisms that have been activated at central and departmental levels. Our shared ambition is to ensure concertation and collaboration of actors, hereby maximizing the impact of everyone’s resources.
Stocks with critical supplies are prepositioned with civil society partners in the North and North East, North West and Artibonite, and additional stocks are ready for dispatch from the South and West which are likely to be less affected. Safe water is a priority in the first hours after a disaster strikes. Based on past experience stocks include aquatabs and chlore for water purification, and hygiene kits to ensure a minimum standard of drinking water and sanitation – crucial aspects to prevent the outbreak of diseases. Furthermore plastic-sheeting and blankets are included as families who lost their homes and belongings will be exposed to the elements; there is also ready to use therapeutic foods (RUTF) for the treatment of malnourished children; and some school-in-a box kits to facilitate the reopening of schools as soon as possible. Further priorities will include protection for the most vulnerable children and adolescents, and psychosocial support to the most affected children and adolescents.
As seen during Matthew last year this return to school can prove to be a major challenge as families who lost their houses seek shelter in schools (which are often the only solid buildings in their area) and have nowhere else to go once the storm has passed. Identifying alternative accommodation as fast as possible is one of the tasks that UNICEF, the Government and various Education partners have started to work on in preparation of Irma.
As I write these lines I am about to leave the office, the rain is gushing down like a shower. Stay dry, and posted please
Irma Haiti, Blog #2