United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) staff in Cuba are rushing to provide clean water and sanitation to the areas hardest hit this week by Hurricane Ike, the fourth deadly tropical storm to batter the Caribbean region with torrential rains and heavy winds within the past month.
Preventing outbreaks of infectious disease is now the top priority in the wake of Ike, UNICEF's deputy representative in Cuba, Viviana Limpias, said yesterday from Havana.
“We are also concerned with the status of schools and recreational facilities for children on the island, given that the return to school has been pushed back until further notice and many classrooms are currently being used as shelters,” Ms. Limpias said.
More than 2.5 million Cubans have been evacuated from their homes in recent weeks because of either Hurricane Gustav or Ike, which pummelled the island country within nine days of each other. Many hospitals, schools and entire communities remain without electricity and hundreds of roads have been washed away.
In Cuba's western-most province of Pinar del Rio, where winds during Gustav reached 340 kilometres per hour, 600 out of 930 schools were damaged, and many were completely destroyed. Cropland was also badly damaged.
Food and water have been identified as the most urgent needs, especially for the displaced, while jerry cans, kitchen utensils, mattresses, sheets, towels and water filters are also being procured.
Ms. Limpias added that natural disasters on the scale of the hurricanes are especially frightening for children.
“More funding will be needed to ensure children's well-being since we are expecting several other hurricanes in the next few months.”
UNICEF officials are also in the Turks and Caicos Islands, which were ravaged by Ike last weekend, to conduct a relief assessment. More than 80 per cent of homes, schools and other public buildings were damaged on Grand Turk and South Caicos islands, two isles in the chain.
“We sent in a team as soon as it was possible to secure flights into the worst-affected areas and, once we determine the needs, UNICEF will respond,” the agency's representative for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, Tom Olsen, said yesterday.
UNICEF is also one of many UN agencies, along with the peacekeeping mission known as MINUSTAH, at work in Haiti to try to bring relief to the country suffering most as a result of the series of tropical storms.
At least 300 Haitians have been killed and some 800,000 people are in urgent need of assistance, particularly in the northern city of Gonaïves, which has been inundated by flood waters.
Yesterday the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes called on Member States and donors to fund the $100 million humanitarian flash appeal launched this week to alleviate the plight of Haitians.