PANAMA CITY/NEW YORK, 9 September 2017 – As the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma becomes clearer, UNICEF is mobilizing an urgent response to meet the needs of children affected while also preparing for the arrival of Hurricane José.
Irma, the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean, caused extensive damage to the islands of the Eastern Caribbean, with the islands of Barbuda and Anguilla worst hit. Almost 20,000 children and adolescents are estimated to have been affected on these islands.
“We are still far from having a full picture of the extent of damage across the region," said Khin-Sandi Lwin, UNICEF Representative for the eastern Caribbean. "Children and families, many of whom have lost their homes and seen their communities destroyed, now face a second powerful storm. Our first priority is to make sure they are safe and have what they need ahead of the arrival of José.
"Without a safe water supply, waterborne diseases remain a huge risk for children. Many families who have lost their homes will be struggling simply to protect themselves from the elements and we only expect needs to grow in the coming days as Irma passes, José hits and the scale of the emergency becomes apparent."
On Friday the Government of Antigua and Barbuda declared a state of emergency in Barbuda with the 1,600 island residents, including 750 children, evacuated to Antigua ahead of the imminent arrival of Hurricane José.
In Barbuda, electricity and water services are not operational while the island's only school has been damaged and classes are suspended. In Antigua, shelters are prepared for the evacuees and UNICEF has been prepositioning humanitarian supplies in the area ready for distribution.
The situation in the rest of the region is equally worrying. 4,800 children have been affected by the hurricane in Anguilla, and 9,500 children affected in the Virgin Islands. Electricity and water systems have been damaged, telephone lines are down and many schools are destroyed.
In Turks and Caicos, there are about 10,000 affected children.
UNICEF's priorities include providing safe drinking water to communities affected, as well as providing psychosocial support to affected children and their families, and to restore education through the rehabilitation of schools and the establishment of child-friendly centers.
UNICEF’s pre-positioned emergency supplies in Barbados and Antigua will be rapidly distributed in coordination with national authorities in the most affected communities. The first response supplies include tents, water purification tablets and hygiene kits for displaced families. Other supplies such as tarpaulins, blankets and potable water containers are being shipped from the Panama regional and global Supply Division stocks.
Trained facilitators from non-affected countries are being mobilized to complement local teams to provide psychosocial support for the most affected/impacted children and adolescents, ages 6 through 14 years, through the "Return to Happiness" programme.