Hurricane Mathew will expose more than four million children in Haiti to grave danger, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said on Tuesday as the Category 4 storm made landfall on the impoverished Caribbean island.
“This is the worst storm Haiti has seen in decades and the damage will no doubt be significant,” said Marc Vincent, the UNICEF representative in Haiti.
“Water-borne diseases are the first threat to children in similar situations — our first priority is to make sure children have enough safe water.”
Strong winds and torrential rains are battering the island, raising the risk of floods and landslides. The airport remains closed and children have been told to stay home from school — particularly as many schools are being used to shelter evacuees.
Haiti is still recovering from the 2010 earthquake, with 55,000 people still living in shelters. The southern coast, where the storm is expected to hit the most, is one of the poorest and most densely populated parts of the country.
In a country where less than one in five people in rural areas have access to improved sanitation and 40 percent of people use unsafe water sources, it is feared that the hurricane will worsen an already precarious situation.
Cholera is endemic and with more than 27,000 suspected cholera cases reported already this year — an estimated one third of them children — any damage to water and sanitation infrastructure or large-scale displacement could put children and families at greater risk of infection.
UNICEF is working to support the Haitian government’s humanitarian response. Life-saving supplies for 10,000 people are in place and ready to be distributed to the most affected families in the worst hit areas. They include water bladders and chlorination tablets, hygiene kits and mosquito nets.