Belize + 5 more

As severe floods engulf Central America, children are some of the worst affected

By Roshni Karwal

NEW YORK, USA, 29 October 2008 - Severe flooding caused by heavy rains during the past two weeks continues to engulf Central America, leaving dozens of people dead and affecting 410,000 - 70 per cent of them in Honduras.

Some 20,000 Hondurans, half of them children, have been forced to flee their homes for shelters. On 23 October, the President of Honduras declared a state of national emergency.

More than 70,000 people have also been affected by the flooding in neighbouring Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Belize. The 2008 hurricane season has had devastating effects on several countries in the region, with Haiti and Cuba the worst hit up to now.

Impact on child nutrition and education

"When we have floods, crops are affected, and this will impact harvests and, in turn, the nutrition of children," said UNICEF's Deputy Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, Jean Gough. "These countries already have a problem with nutrition and are struggling with rising global food prices. Making sure the most vulnerable children have access to food will be the main challenge of this relief operation."

Education has also suffered, with 120 schools damaged and at least one destroyed, affecting some 71,000 children. UNICEF is working with governments to make sure these children do not lose out on the school year and are able to finish their final examinations.

In the longer term, children in the flood zones will also need psycho-social rehabilitation and space to play again in an effort to help them continue their lives with some degree of normalcy.

Preparing for future emergencies

As the kinds of severe weather patterns that triggered the current floods recur with greater frequency, UNICEF is planning for the future. To better prepare for such emergencies, the organization has provided - and is now pre-positioning - $500,000 worth of life-saving supplies in the region.

These supplies include oral re-hydration salts to treat diarrhoeal dehydration, as well as cooking kits, medical kits, blankets and hygiene kits to prevent the waterborne diseases that are easily spread in the aftermath of natural disasters.

Still, much remains to be done, and UNICEF is asking the international community to help.

For the people of Central America, the past few days have evoked haunting memories from 10 years ago, when 10,000 people died and 3 million were left homeless or severely affected in the wake of Hurricane Mitch. For a generation of children and adolescents, and their parents, the floods this year are an unwelcome reminder of that devastating time.