Potentially life-threatening cases of diarrhoea, stomach cramps, and fever have increased in Belize following Hurricane Dean's destructive sweep through the small Central American country, posing a particular danger to young children and other vulnerable people, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has warned.
“The scarcity of drinking water and water for sanitation has led many people to use poor quality water from previously abandoned wells and being exposed to an increased risk of water-borne diseases,” UNICEF country representative Rana Flowers said in an update yesterday. “We must take great care to ensure that particularly children do not drink or use bad water.”
UNICEF has sought additional financing to address the ongoing lack of food and water, a shortage of medicines and a need for generators and supplies to repair damaged homes and schools, as well as for psycho-social support, particularly to children.
Although Dean's impact on northern districts of Belize could have been much worse, it is estimated that about 30,000 people - over 10 per cent of the total population - in both urban and rural areas were directly affected.
The hurricane's force caused wide-spread power failure, affecting the water supply to villages that are dependent on electric water-pumps. Close to 275 houses were destroyed and at least 900 more have varying degrees of structural damage and loss of essential household items. Some 2,000 people were displaced, many of whom remain in shelters.
Despite relief efforts, some communities have yet to receive needed food and water, while unemployment threatens the livelihoods of an estimated 20,000 farm labourers due to crop destruction.
Since the hurricane made landfall on 21 August, UNICEF has supported the Government in conducting detailed assessments, providing vehicles and technical assistance for further assessments and delivery of life-saving supplies, securing generators to power water pumps, and delivering safe water to the most affected communities.
Water purification tablets and oral re-hydration salts have also been essential components in the UNICEF response. The agency has also agreed to work with the UN World Food Programme (WFP) to feed 1,000 families for two months.