15 novembre 2016, Abner Dorvil dans la station de traitement d'eau financée par l’UNICEF installée à Jérémie ©Maxence Bradley

“We know that people expect a lot from us.”


Six months after the devastating landfall of Hurricane Matthew in Haiti, Abner Dorvil, emergency officer, returns to the site. More than 2 million people were affected by the disaster, including 900,000 children. Abner was the first member of the UNICEF Haiti office to reach, not without difficulties, one of the most affected departments, Grand ‘Anse and to put in place the first responses to help children and their families.

View of the city of Jérémie destroyed after Matthew. ©Lemoyne

View of the city of Jérémie destroyed after Matthew. ©Lemoyne

Abner comes from the north of Haiti, a place called Bas-Limbé. He is a father, an agricultural engineer, a man who loves nature and studies. He began his career at UNICEF in 2011 as a field support officer in the north of the country.

I have always wanted to work with UNICEF to improve the living conditions of Haitian women and children.” In January 2013, he became an emergency officer. When Hurricane Matthew struck Haiti, he was one of the first to leave for the field. “After Matthew, I led the team that was going to Jérémie in the department of Grand’Anse. Another team had to go to Les Cayes in the South department. Matthew struck on 4th October. We had to leave on 5th October  but we could not leave immediately because the helicopter could not land at Jérémie. There was too much mud on the airstrip, so I left the next day, the  6th October. We had to move quickly because, with communications cut off, we had no information coming in for this area.

Abner joined a team of humanitarian workers and members of UNDAC, the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination team.

” The situation was really alarming ”

In Jérémie, a few days after the passage of Matthew, a little patient is treated for a case of acute diarrhea. ©Lemoyne

In Jérémie, a few days after the passage of Matthew, a little patient is treated for a case of acute diarrhea. ©Lemoyne

I arrived to find a devastated department, there were no more trees, no more houses. The population was in a state of shock and great distress. My goal was to find how to support the authorities in collecting information and to share it rapidly back to the central level so that it could help the women and children of Grand’Anse as quickly as possible. The city of Jérémie was devastated, all these trees down, wounded and helpless people suffering, heaps of rubbish littered the muddy traumatized city … In the first hours after I arrived I cried. I knew Jérémie before Matthew, I had participated in the mission of support to the Directorate of Civil Protection in 2013-2014 to pre-position supplies as part of disaster preparedness planning in anticipation of a catastrophe. The situation that greeted me in 2016, however, was really alarming and shocking.”

When Abner reached the departmental emergency operation center, he witnessed the powerlessness of the authorities. “They wanted to do something but they did not have the means. The population awaited the arrival of first aid. We did not have the resources on the ground and we worked day and night with the authorities and with UNICEF partners to see how to respond appropriately to this major disaster.’’

” I am not desperate, because you, UNICEF, are here!”

A child is taking water in a shelter at the Professional school of Jérémie. ©Maxence Bradley

A child is taking water in a shelter at the Professional school of Jérémie. ©Maxence Bradley

Total destruction of crops and loss of food-stocks and livestock in some of the worst affected areas, destroyed or severely damaged water and sanitation infrastructure, children at risk of acute malnutrition, and homeless children in temporary shelters. Destruction of hospitals [1]  and schools[2] , high risk of spread of water-borne diseases like cholera. Blocked roads, severed communications.

In the midst of this chaos, the priority of UNICEF and its partners was to meet children’s most pressing needs in areas affected by the hurricane including:

In the days following the disaster, I remember meeting a little boy who was about six years old, he was displaced, staying in the Professional School of Jérémie which served as a temporary shelter. Despite the destruction that surrounded us and the difficulty of the situation, this child still believed in the future. He came to me and said “I’m hopeful, because you, UNICEF, you’re here, you arrived. I know we’re going to be helped, that aid is on its way.”

“People expect a lot from us”

Abner Dorvil à la station de traitement d'eau de Jérémie installé par UNICEF et ses partenaires. ©Maxence Bradley

Abner Dorvil at the water treatment plan implemented in Jeremie by UNICEF and partners. ©Maxence Bradley

Today, six months later, the memory of this encounter remains vivid in Abner’s memory. He also keeps in his heart the tenacity, courage and commitment he has seen among partners, authorities and colleagues in the office, all of whom have worked hard to respond as quickly as possible to the needs of children and to reach the most remote areas. “We, UNICEF Haiti, are a very committed office. I was touched to see the motivation and commitment of international and national colleagues. We want to have the financial means to continue to provide responses to the affected areas (Nippes, Grand’Anse and South). We know that the population expects a lot from us. All of these people deserve an appropriate response to the extent of the damage. Today, I advocate for the necessary financial means to continue to provide this response and to carry out projects for the benefit of the affected populations,” concludes Abner, who recently also became Vice-President of UNICEF’s staff association in Haiti.

Yes, the little boy that Abner met a few days after Matthew’s landfall was right to believe in the future and to keep hope. We were there during the emergency. We are there to ensure the transition to recovery. And we will continue to respond to all types of emergencies, new and ongoing, while seeking to establish favorable conditions for sustainable recovery and development, such that every Haitian child has the best opportunity to achieve his or her full potential.

Julie Harlet

 Communication Officer UNICEF Haiti 



[1] Up to 80 per cent of hospitals and health centres in Grand’Anse have lost their roofs. An additional seven health centres in Grand’Anse, four in South and three in Nippes were no longer operational. http://timounyo.com/hurricane-matthew-one-month-on-more-than-600000-children-still-in-need-of-aid/?lang=en

[2] More than 700 schools have been affected and about 86 schools have been used as temporary shelters, causing school disruption for at least 150,000 children. http://timounyo.com/hurricane-matthew-one-month-on-more-than-600000-children-still-in-need-of-aid/?lang=en


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