No calm after the storm for the Caribbean’s poorest children

In Grand Turk Island, the capital island of the Turks and Caicos, 14-year-old Danessa Estime writes rap lyrics in her notebook about the night Hurricane Irma battered the island:

“Wake up, wake up!
But 5:32?
Why the hell am I waking up at 5:32?
Ma, what’s going on?
What do you want me to do?
Did something happen to be up at 5:32?
She is finally over,
Hurricane Irma is finally done.”

A young woman in leggings and a tank top writes bent over a dresser.
UNICEF Moreno GonzalezDanessa Estime writes rap lyrics outside her house in Grand Turks.

Hurricane Irma may be gone but hurricane season is far from over. Hurricane Maria, which has reached Category 5 is now advancing on the same islands that bore the brunt of Irma’s wrath.

The storm caused massive damage in parts of the Eastern Caribbean, Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba, wrecking homes, schools, health centres and basic infrastructure. In the aftermath of its relentless path, more than 270,000 children are in need; the vast majority already living in the most vulnerable communities. They are now bracing for another catastrophic hurricane.

The settlement where Danessa and her family live is one of these vulnerable communities. Outside the house, half of the zinc roof is lying on the ground. Mattresses, furniture, and home appliances, wet and ruined by the strong rains, are scattered around.

A young woman stands in a dark room, her profile sillouetted against an open window.
UNICEF Moreno GonzalezKaty Sabrina Estime, 15, in her bedroom in Grand Turks.

“I have lived in this house with my mother and two sisters for more than eight years. Now the house seems cleaner, but right after the hurricane everything was wet and destroyed,” says Danessa’s sister, 15-year-old Katy Sabrina Estime. “The water system is not working, so we have to fetch water from a container up the hill. It is dirty, yellow, so we have to put bleach in. We are mainly using it for washing and cleaning but we are running out of water, we don’t have enough money to buy drinking water.”

A few metres from Danessa and Katy’s house, 11-year-old Renalson Pervil tells me how the storm affected him.

“The night of the hurricane was horrible. We were not in the house. All the children in the neighbourhood slept at a shelter in the school. The day after, when we came back to the house, it was as if a river had run through it. We have a lot of work to fix up the house and wash and dry the clothes. We do not have enough food, and if we had, we wouldn’t have any place to store it anyway,” Renalson says.

A boy, surrounded by hurricane devastation, holds his bicycle with one hand.
UNICEF Moreno GonzalezRenalson Pervil, 11, holds his bike outside his house in Grand Turks.

Grand Turk was just one of the islands hit by the hurricane. Jumping on a 25 minutes flight from Grand Turk, you arrive in Providenciales. One of the communities that suffered the rage of the storm is Five Cays. The great majority of the families living here are Haitian nationals with irregular migrant status.

“Everything is ruined since the storm. There are so many mosquitos, day and night, that it is impossible to rest. What worries me most is that my baby can get sick,” Berline says.

Five-month-old Recca Chery sits in his mother’s lap outside his home. A buzzing cloud of mosquitoes hungrily gathers around him. His mother, Berline Ditah, covers him with a blanket to protect him.

Little by little I am seeing families trying to rebuild their homes and their lives, but each island has a different set of needs. Water, sanitation and hygiene, child protection and education are UNICEF’s main priority.

A woman and a man, both dressed in UNICEF shirts, walk towards a stack of supplies on a tarmac.
UNICEF Morena GonzalezUNICEF Representative, Khin-Sandi Lwin (left) inspects UNICEF supplies at Providenciales international airport.

Working closely with the government, UN agencies and NGO partners, UNICEF has deployed additional staff and humanitarian supplies, including water purification tablets, hygiene kits, tents and educational materials for children and their families.

Damage assessment is still underway in the hardest-hit areas, but with new hurricanes and tropical storms threatening the Caribbean, the number of children in need is likely to rise.

Manuel Moreno is a Communication Specialist for UNICEF Latin America and the Caribbean Regional Office

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