I am waking up to battering rain. Irma is coming closer. Packing winds of 185mph, Irma is the most powerful Atlantic hurricane on record.
Exceeding current storm category measures (above 5), Irma is far stronger than Hurricane Matthew, a category 4 hurricane that brought devastation to Haiti just one year ago. Irma is barreling across the Caribbean’s many island groups, with millions of children, women and men in its path. Those at the most immediate risk are families in the less well-off Caribbean islands who live in fragile housing. They face potentially catastrophic consequences. Millions have been urged to prepare, and some are taking cover in emergency shelters. Listening to the rain drumming over my head I think of those families who live in makeshift homes that barely stand straight in normal weather. What will their lives look like in 48 hours?
Yesterday UNICEF started to deploy teams to locations most likely be hardest hit once Irma reaches the Haitian shore. Starting beginning of the week, emergency stockpiles have been positioned via government and civil society partners in the areas at risk. These include those supplies that will be most needed during the immediate response when access to clean water, shelter and basic social services becomes scarce.
It is hard to imagine that only three weeks ago I visited Cap Haitian. Those three weeks feel like a closed chapter of the past. Wondering whether the schools and smiles that I got a chance to see will still be there at my next visit.
Please remember, in October 2016 Matthew affected 2.1 million people, of which 1.3 million were children. UNICEF’s emergency response, in close partnership with the Haitian government kicked in immediately, with key interventions centering around water, hygiene, education, protection, nutrition and health, while at the same time responding to the spread of cholera. This work continues as the affected populations’ transition to normality. Efforts over the past 11 months allowed rehabilitation of 75 schools with 25,000 students returning to the classroom, access to drinking water for 400,000 people, and access to medical attention for 80,000 people in affected areas without operational health centres.
Our office has entered into emergency mode. All efforts are concentrated to make sure that children will get the life-saving help they’ll need once Irma is gone. Stay posted.
Cornelia Walther is Chief of Communication, UNICEF Haiti