The UN has said that four days after the devastating 7.2-magnitude earthquake that hit south-western Haiti, the level of destruction and desperation was becoming increasingly evident as the death toll surged to nearly 2,000.
The global body said on Wednesday that the number of those injured had already surpassed 9,900, while calling for more support to assist the victims.
After the back-to-back crises in the beleaguered country – Saturday’s earthquake followed on Monday by Tropical Depression Grace – the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) also said that the official tally of deaths and destruction had continued to grow.
Similarly, the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that civil protection authorities were urging extreme vigilance by those affected, as the combination of heavy rains and possible aftershocks from the earthquake could bring down the cracked walls and roofs of damaged homes.
The UN correspondent of the News Agency of NIgeria (NAN) quotes UNICEF as estimating that some 1.2 million people, including 540,000 children, have been affected by the earthquake and about half a million Haitian children were presently facing limited or no access to shelter, safe water, health care and nutrition.
Despite criminal violence and insecurity, including gangs controlling the main road from Port-au-Prince to the south of the country, a UNICEF truck was able to deliver medical kits to three hospitals in Les Cayes, with enough supplies – including gloves, painkillers, antibiotics and syringes – to treat 30,000 earthquake victims over three months.
The UN agency and partners are also distributing tarpaulins for emergency shelters; latrines and showers and safe water, as the agency estimates that it will need $15 million dollars to respond to the most urgent needs of at least 385,000 people, including 167,000 children, under the age of five, for a period of eight weeks.
“Haiti’s children need solidarity and support,” said Bruno Maes, UNICEF’s Representative in Haiti. “Parents and teachers who have lost everything will also need support”.
Just weeks before schools are due to re-open, preliminary assessments conducted on Tuesday by UNICEF and Haitian officials in South Department – one of the three hardest hit regions – showed that 94 of the 255 schools have either sustained damages or been completely destroyed.
“It will be extremely difficult for parents, teachers and the Government to get children safely back to school just three weeks from now,” Maes said.
After visiting a damaged school in Mazenod, near Les Cayes, the UNICEF official stressed that it was “crucial for children who have just gone through this traumatic earthquake-plus-extreme weather experience, to have the normalcy and stability of being in a classroom with their friends and teachers”.
This latest tragedy comes at a time when children have been unable to attend school for months at a time, due to political or security challenges, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Putting children back in classrooms is perhaps the best way to make sure they and their families and communities can recover.
“We will need resources to rebuild some schools, rehabilitate others, equip classes with desks, teachers and students with pedagogical and school kits,” the UNICEF Representative said.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, OCHA sent an 11-person Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team to the hard-hit country.
Reviewing assessments that revealed damage worse than hoped, the UN office issued a Flash Update saying that casualties will likely continue to climb as search and rescue operations persist.
Along with ongoing search-and-rescue efforts, access remains the biggest priority, according to OCHA, which reported that teams had managed to save at least 34 people from the rubble.
The World Food Programme (WFP) has announced that its trucks are “loaded with food, water and hygiene kits” for people in the most affected areas. (NAN)