UNICEF Humanitarian Action: Belize donor update 25 Oct 2001

Situation Report
Originally published


  • Over 3,000 families had their houses completely destroyed
  • Major impact on schools
  • Severe agricultural damage and destruction of infrastructure
  • Serious contamination of water supply
  • Over 65 per cent of Appeal requirements unmet

Displaced population in need of immediate assistance

On Sunday 8 October 2001, Hurricane Iris, a category 4 hurricane, struck Belize causing extensive damage in the south of the country where the poorest communities reside. Some 20,000 (or 8.5%) of the population have been affected. According to the latest figures, 22 people were killed and 8 are missing. It is estimated that 72% of residents of Stann Creek and Toledo Districts in Southern Belize have been left homeless. At least 7,000 were evacuated from several low lying and coastal communities including Belize City, Dangriga Town, Punta Gorda Town and the Cayes.


Belize is the second smallest country in Central America with an area of 22,963 square kilometres and a population of 250,000 inhabitants. The country is a former British colony that gained independence in 1981. Belize is an extremely ethnically diverse country with 44% Mestizos, 30% Creoles, 11% Mayas and 7% Garifunas. The majority of the population, some 60%, are Catholics, 30% are Protestants and the remaining 10% are of various other beliefs.

Infrastructure in need of urgent repair

Extensive damage to homes, schools, community centres and public infrastructure such as water supply, roads and bridges has left thousands isolated and without shelter. According to the Ministry of Education and Sports, the estimated damage to schools amounts to US$ 1.6 million. Some 15 schools have been completely destroyed, 12 have lost roofs and others suffered extensive damage. Equipment, books and furniture have been completely destroyed. The total number of school age children affected is 5,500 (Stann Creek: 2,050/ Toledo: 3,500).

Major agricultural damage

Due to strong winds, the effects of the hurricane on agriculture have been devastating. Major crops, including rice, corn, cocoa and fruit trees, were totally destroyed. Approximately 12,000 acres of produce worth millions of dollars have been lost.

International community mobilised

Following the Belize Government's request, a United Nations Disaster Assessment and Co-ordination Team was mobilized on 10 October and has subsequently undertaken a full damage and needs assessment mission of the affected areas. The immediate needs include food, cooking materials, water supply, medicines, clothing (especially for children), temporary shelter, building materials, tools (construction tools, chainsaws, etc), and portable electric generators.

A coordinated response

The National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO) is coordinating the response to the national emergency through its various committees. District Emergency Management Committees (DEMOs) of Toledo and Stann Creek districts and the village branches of NEMO continue to provide valuable field coordination of relief and assessment efforts.


UNICEF responds immediately

UNICEF's immediate concern has been to meet the needs of the children and women affected by the disaster. As an initial response, UNICEF made available US$ 50,000 for immediate use in the areas of education, basic emergency supplies, psychosocial assistance and data collection. This includes working with the Ministry of Human Development on situation assessments in affected areas, Kekchi Council of Belize in the provision of food and water, and the Ministry of Education in the construction of temporary classrooms.

The UNICEF Team operating out of Belize, and supported by the UNICEF Country Office in Guatemala and the Regional Office in Panama, is co-ordinating its response efforts in collaboration with Government Agencies as well as other UN Agencies and NGOs on the ground. UNICEF has been working with counterparts and partners in the assessment of damages and has provided damage assessment formats for use during the mission. In an effort to ensure greater impact and coordination on the ground, UNICEF will hire a local consultant to provide programme support.

Water and sanitation

The areas hit hardest have lost basic water and sanitation services. According to Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), water supply has been disrupted, water lines broken and noticeable contamination has already been reported due to flooded septic tanks, latrines, solid waste dumpsites, and oil and gasoline spills. Mounts of debris in affected communities make it difficult to conduct sanitation and vector control activities.

Lack of access to clean water and sanitation facilities is a cause of major concern. It is estimated that some 50,000 people are at risk of adverse health conditions due to poor sanitation. To protect the most vulnerable, UNICEF is responsible for health and sanitation initiatives including providing safe drinking water, sanitation facilities (e.g. water purification) and health education campaigns in all affected communities.


The exact number of schools destroyed or damaged by the hurricane is still being assessed but UNICEF is already committed to assisting the Ministry of Education in the rehabilitation and reconstruction of 40 school buildings. UNICEF will also provide school supplies, books, classroom equipment and furniture for 5,500 students. In addition, support will be provided to school feeding programmes and to teacher training for disaster preparedness. These immediate interventions will put schools back into service as quickly as possible, which is an important part of bringing normalcy back to the lives of thousands of children.

Special protection

Most people affected by the emergency, particularly children and adolescents, have suffered psychological impact with the dislocation of family, friends, neighbours and destruction of homes and livelihoods. This is a major concern to UNICEF. The methodology developed by UNICEF in other disaster and conflict areas around the world has shown how early attention to psychological trauma can have a favourable impact in terms of social re-insertion, school performance and recovery of normal family life. The psychosocial relief interventions in favour of children and women achieved important results in Central America in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch. In Belize, UNICEF is in close contact with the Community Rehabilitation Department of the Ministry of Health to determine interventions in the area of psychosocial support. In this respect, UNICEF will provide training in basic counselling to teachers, nurses and community workers working in the affected areas and will assist to establish a network of referrals. UNICEF will also co-ordinate the re-printing of Hurricane Preparedness materials for general distribution and will adapt/translate and produce additional material from El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua for use in Belize.


On October 17, in the Belize capital of Belmopan, UN Agencies launched a Flash Appeal for humanitarian assistance and initial rehabilitation activities in response to Hurricane Iris. Within this framework, UNICEF has outlined a requirement of US$ 315,000 for the victims of the hurricane. To date, the only contribution received is from the Italian Government of US$ 99,370. These funds will be used to support health, water and sanitation, and education activities. The table shows the requirements by sector:

Child Protection
Health and Nutrition
Household Effects
5% Recovery Cost

Details of the Belize Programme can be obtained from:

Miguel Ugalde
Assistant Representative
Tel: 501-8-20104
Fax: 501-8-20101

Robin Medforth-Mills
Tel: +41 22 909 5544
Fax: +41 22 909 5902

Dan Rohrmann
New York
Tel: +1 212 326 7009
Fax: +1 212 326 7165

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