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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

More Than 300000 Haitian Children Are Hungry, Shelterless, Affected by Back to Back Hurricanes: Fay, Gustav, Hanna, and Ike

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said today that 650,000 people – some 300,000 of them children – have been impacted by back-to-back hurricanes that have recently battered Haiti, warning that ruined infrastructure has impeded efforts to deliver relief to those in need.

Hurricanes Fay, Gustav and Hanna, which passed through the Caribbean nation in a three-week period, have forced thousands of people to flee to their rooftops. Key bridges have been destroyed and landslides have blocked roads, obstructing aid delivery.

With Haiti having witnessed violent riots in April due to the global food crisis, UNICEF said the current situation has been further exacerbated by possible social and political unrest.

Yesterday, urgently-needed supplies were sent to Gonaives, the hardest-hit city with 70,000 uprooted by the hurricanes, by helicopter and boat. UNICEF and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) have provided drinking water and food, and UNICEF is also providing tarpaulins for shelter, water purification tablets and sanitation materials.

“The initial push to provide aid to Gonaives is a start, but there is a great deal more to be done to help children and families that have been affected by the storms throughout the entire country,” says Nils Kastberg, UNICEF Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean.

UNICEF has made more than $1 million available to help hurricane victims, and a Flash Appeal from all UN agencies operating in Haiti will be launched in the coming days.

Neighbouring countries Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica have also been hit hard by the strong storms, and UNICEF is rushing assistance to those affected while assessing future needs.

“We are faced with a combination, once again, of severe natural disasters in a number of places which is stretching our resources,” Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes told reporters yesterday.

On 3 September, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) deployed a UN disaster and coordination team (UNDAC) to Haiti.

“This is very much the beginning of the operation and we're still trying to establish how bad it is and build up our capacity,” said Mr. Holmes, adding he was ready to assist with assistance from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF).

The world body's peacekeeping force in Haiti, known as MINUSTAH, is assisting in the aid efforts, including for evacuation and for the distribution of relief items.

“It was really, really difficult even for our troops to assist the population due to the level of the water,” MINUSTAH spokesperson Sophie Boutaud de la Combe told the UN News Centre.

“The situation in Gonaives is really critical and everyone is doing the best they can to support the national authorities,” she added.

So far, MINUSTAH troops have helped to evacuate more than 500 people to emergency shelters, Ms. Boutaud de la Combe said. In addition, hundreds of people have been treated by the Mission's doctors and its helicopters have been transporting food and other emergency relief supplies from the capital, Port-au-Prince, to Gonaives.

On the way back, the same helicopters have been transporting people who require urgent medical attention to the capital because the hospital in Gonaives is not able to treat them, she added.

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