PANAMA CITY/ NEW YORK, 11 November 2020 - Several days of torrential rains and catastrophic flooding caused by Tropical Storm Eta have impacted the lives of more than 1.2 million children across Central America, according to UNICEF estimates based on official reports. This number is expected to increase in the coming days and weeks as rescue teams gain access to the most affected areas.
“Across Central America, countless children have seen their lives thrown into disarray by the devastating floods of the past few days,” said Bernt Aasen, UNICEF Regional Director ad interim for Latin America and the Caribbean. “Families who lost their homes were stranded on roofs, blocked in inundated areas without electricity and cut off from the rest of their communities. Many are still being evacuated into shelters. We only expect needs to grow in the coming days as we obtain a fuller picture of the extent of the damage across the region,” he added.
Last week, Eta made landfall in Nicaragua as a Category 4 hurricane and weakened to a Tropical Depression before entering Honduras. Across Central America, strong winds and heavy rains partially or severely damaged critical infrastructure such as hospitals, schools, bridges, roads and water systems. Remote communities, already suffering from the health and socio-economic fallout of COVID-19 are particularly vulnerable to the double burden of a pandemic and the devastation wrought by Eta.
UNICEF estimates that over 110,000 people, including around 44,000 children, have been evacuated to temporary shelters across seven affected countries, namely Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Belize, Panama, Costa Rica and El Salvador.
“I saw my house collapsing so I went to a shelter,” explained John Dell, a 13-year-old boy from Bilwi, one of the most affected regions in the northern Caribbean coast of Nicaragua. “I felt bad, I have nothing left. I don't have a school uniform. All my shirts and pants are gone. I would like to get my house back and receive food and water.”
Working with national authorities and partners in countries hit by Eta, UNICEF teams on the ground are delivering life-saving supplies to evacuated families, including hygiene kits, water tanks, disinfection tablets, tests for water quality monitoring and recreational kits.
Immediate response actions also include the installation of temporary shelters with safe spaces for displaced children, provision of emergency mental health and psychosocial support services for children and families, and support for gender-based violence survivors to access basic services.
“Access to quality water and sanitation has become seriously problematic in the areas most affected by Eta,” said Bernt Aasen. “Now the risk of waterborne diseases is increasing as is the risk of COVID-19 spreading in shelters. One of our growing concerns is how to provide more life-saving assistance to families affected by the tropical storm without exposing humanitarian workers or the families themselves to the pandemic.”
Across the Latin America and Caribbean region, UNICEF also continues to provide support to national efforts to curb the increase in COVID-19 cases by distributing PPEs to frontline health workers and hygiene items for the most vulnerable children and families.
UNICEF Latin America and the Caribbean
Tel: + 507 6169 9886
Alfonso Fernández Reca
UNICEF Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean, Panama
Tel: + 507 6941 2277