Cornelia Walther is UNICEF Haiti's Chief of Communication.
Why is Haiti so Vulnerable?
Because of its steep terrain, Haiti is particularly vulnerable to devastating floods. Massive deforestation over decades has left countless hillsides and mountains devoid of the trees that usually hold back water.
With sixty percent of the population living on less than $ 1.25 a day, many families reside in houses that are barely able to withstand heavy rainfall. Typically, these are built of wood with fragile corrugated steel roofs. As I hear the wind intensifying outside, my thoughts are with those families who now feel their walls shake.
Fifty years ago, on September 29, 1966, Hurricane Ines struck Haiti. It was a Category 4 storm — just like Hurricane Matthew on its way today. Hurricane Ines left close to 1,000 people dead, thousands of wounded and over 60,000 homeless. Damage was estimated at $20 million (in 1966 dollars).
Clean drinking water is the first commodity that runs short in an emergency like this. In a country where less than one in five people living in the countryside has access to improved sanitation, and around forty per cent use unprotected water sources, Hurricane Matthew may worsen an already dark situation.
How is UNICEF Helping?
UNICEF teams are ready to ensure that children are protected from harm. Their rights to education, protection, health, water and nutrition are not suspended in times of crises, but weigh even more heavily.
Over the last few days, UNICEF Haiti has been working hand in hand with the government and the humanitarian community in order to position crucial stocks for 10,000 people. Safe water is a top priority, and water bladders and chlorination tablets have been delivered to regional departments via the government’s health department.
UNICEF teams are ready to ensure that children are protected from harm.
Because less than one in seven Haitians has electricity, and literacy rates only range around sixty percent, access to information remains a rare commodity, and yet tomorrow it may be lifesaving.
To better prepare vulnerable families and children for Hurricane Matthew, we are publicizing protection measures as quickly as possible, particularly in Les Cayes, the area that is likely to be the worst affected. Here, agents from the government’s civil protection department and UNICEF’s partners are walking the streets, urging residents to assemble emergency kits, secure their homes and spread preparedness messages to their neighbors.
How Can You Help?
Haiti has so much beauty to share and courage to build upon, that Hurricane Matthew, no matter what its consequences, will not get the upper hand. In the coming days and beyond, we must do whatever we can to support Haitian children, women and men, so that they can survive and thrive.
Banner Photo credit: Schoolgirls at the La Ruche school in Les Cayes, one of the areas of Haiti most vulnerable to Hurricane Matthew's Category 4 winds and drenching rains. © UNICEF/UNI107028/Dormino