Haiti earthquake: over half a million children at risk of waterborne diseases

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PORT-AU-PRINCE / PANAMA CITY, 2 September 2021 – About 540,000 children in the southwest of earthquake-stricken Haiti are now facing the possible re-emergence of waterborne diseases, UNICEF warned today.

Severe conditions in southwestern Haiti – where over half a million children lack access to shelter, drinking water and hygiene facilities – are rapidly increasing the threat of acute respiratory infections, diarrhoeal diseases, cholera and malaria.

“The lives of thousands of earthquake-affected children and families are now at risk, just because they don’t have access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene,” said Bruno Maes, UNICEF Representative in Haiti. “Cholera has not been reported in Haiti since February 2019, yet without urgent and firmer action the re-emergence of cholera and other waterborne diseases is a real threat that is increasing by the day.”

Prior to the earthquake, only over half of the healthcare facilities in the three departments most affected by the earthquake had basic access to water services. In the aftermath of the earthquake, nearly 60 per cent of people in the three most affected departments do not have access to safe water. Thousands of people whose houses have collapsed lack access to sanitation due in part to the damage wrought by the earthquake.

With the National Directorate for Water and Sanitation (DINEPA) and civil society partners, UNICEF is to improve access to water, sanitation and hygiene for affected families:

  • About 73,600 people receive access to safe water through water trucking systems, six water treatment plants and twenty-two bladders
  • Over 35,200 people benefitted from the distribution of about 7,000 hygiene kits, including household water treatments products, soap, water storage, handwashing devices and hygiene pads.

A week after the earthquake devastated Haiti, UNICEF shipped more than 65,000 water purification tablets, 41 bladders, three water treatment units and family hygiene kits. UNICEF has already ordered 31,200 additional hygiene kits. UNICEF, the only UN agency to deliver safe drinking water to the affected population, aims to reach 500,000 people with WASH support.

“Our efforts to deliver more safe drinking water don’t match the dire needs in all the affected areas,” said Maes. “Impatience and sometimes frustration are mounting in some Haitian communities, and this is understandable. But obstructing relief operations won’t help. In the past few days, several distributions of essential hygiene items had to be temporarily put on hold as tensions arose on the ground. Together with financial constraints, insecurity is currently slowing down our lifesaving activities on the ground.”

UNICEF is calling on local authorities to ensure safe conditions for humanitarian organizations to operate and scale up relief assistance to earthquake-affected communities. The 14 August earthquake which struck Haiti has further exacerbated an already challenging humanitarian situation shaped by persistent political instability, socioeconomic crisis and rising food insecurity and malnutrition, gang-related violence and internal displacement, the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the Haitian-Dominican migration influx.

In addition to the US$48.8 million appeal made for 2021, UNICEF is now requesting a humanitarian appeal for children (HAC), of US$73.3 million to scale up its interventions in response to the earthquake and internally displaced persons. So far, less than 1 per cent of this required funding has been received.

UNICEF is calling on the international community to urgently provide additional funding for the humanitarian response and prevent the emergence of waterborne diseases in Haiti after the earthquake.

For further information, please contact:

Unicef UK Media Team, 0207 375 6030, media@unicef.org.uk

About UNICEF

UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across more than 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone.

The UK Committee for UNICEF (UNICEF UK) raises funds for UNICEF’s emergency and development work for children. We also promote and protect children’s rights in the UK and internationally. We are a UK charity, entirely funded by supporters.

United Kingdom Committee for UNICEF (UNICEF UK), Registered Charity No. 1072612 (England & Wales), SC043677 (Scotland).

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