After the storm is before the storm
By Cornelia Walther
Hurricane Matthew has passed. The rain has stopped. Yet the trail of the hurricane is deep and will take months, if not years, to close.
Schools are still closed but shops and the airport are open. In Port-au-Prince life is slowly getting back on track.
The situation is dramatically different in the departments of South, Nippes and Grand Anse. Telecommunication to the latter has finally been re-established. The information is confirming our worst expectations. While not official, an initial count of people who have sought refuge after the storm destroyed their homes amounts to over 11,000 in addition to more than 5,000 in the West. Too many of them are children.
The only road that connects the capital to the South is disrupted after a bridge collapsed on Tuesday. A first UNICEF team has left Port-au-Prince this morning southwards and managed to cross the river, continuing towards Les Cayes, one of the most heavily impacted areas. A second team will follow tomorrow.
While the South/Grand Anse are the most heavily affected locations, Matthew has also left his destructive trace in the metropolitan area of Port-au-Prince and in the North, North West departments. We know from the Government’s Child protection agency (IBESR) that at least 2,000 vulnerable children, who have either been separated from their families during the storm or who lived in fragile orphanages before Matthew, have been evacuated to temporary shelter. Identifying children who are in a similar situation is among the priorities for the coming hours. Currently a multi-sectorial team is circulating in the poorest and most affected areas of Port-au-Prince to assess the needs. During the storm 130 children have been evacuated from Cite Soleil, one of the poorest neighbourhoods and UNICEF is now working with IBESR to be certain that food, water, blankets and hygiene needs are covered.
Access to clean water and sanitation remains at the top of the priority list, to avoid the outbreak of waterborne diseases (and worsening the lingering cholera crises – which caused between 400-500 new cases per week, before Matthew). Among the items that were prepositioned pre-Matthew are water bladders, chlorine tablets and hygiene kits for 10,000 people. Further supply of these items is in the pipeline for delivery as soon as access becomes possible.
Fortunately the areas that have had the highest caseload of cholera cases in 2016 (Artibonite, North, Center and Port-au-Prince) are not the ones hardest hit by the hurricane.
Schools remain closed until 10 October. Yet even afterwards a return to the classroom will be challenging. Thousands of children who just entered their new school year, now face a situation where their schools are flooded, destroyed or serve as shelter for those who lost their homes. The set-up of temporary schooling options is another item on our (long) priority list.
Amidst all this, supporting the Haitians in their efforts for reconstruction is the core attitude that remains engraved in every UNICEF-staff. Ever and again Haitian families have proven their resilience in building back their lives, finding ways to protect their children despite hardship. Neither the 2010 Earthquake nor Matthew were able to damage the courage of women, men and children here. Our task now is to help them to move further along on their way.
The Haitian proverb “Deye mon gen mon” means “Behind mountains lie mountains,” meaning once one problem is solved another one appears; but it may also be interpreted as the valley that comes after each hurdle. Taking to the latter we’ll do our best to ensure that it will be a large and green valley, and with strengthened capacity, climb the next mountain.
Cornelia Walther is the Chief of Communication for UNICEF Haiti. She’s worked with UNICEF for the past 13 years in Africa and Afghanistan. Since her PhD on the responsibility to achieve children’s rights, her motto is: change for good starts here and now, with every individual.