UNICEF chief urges more aid to help Haitian victims of tropical storm

Carol Bellamy (l) with flood victims in Gonaïves, Haiti

30 September 2004 – The head of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said she will push for more funding to accelerate the relief and recovery efforts under way in northern Haiti after yesterday visiting the area that has been devastated by Tropical Storm Jeanne.

Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of UNICEF, said the international response must be rapid if it is to save lives in Haiti, where more than 1,300 people are confirmed killed and at least 1,000 others are missing because of floods and mudslides.

Ms. Bellamy said Haiti's child survival indicators were already dire before Tropical Storm Jeanne struck the country earlier this month, the latest in a series of tropical storms and hurricanes to lash the Caribbean region this season.

Ms. Bellamy walked the streets of Gonaïves, Haiti's third largest city and the hardest-hit by the storm, during yesterday's visit. Before returning to UN Headquarters in New York, she said that about 30,000 children under the age of five and some 8,000 pregnant or lactating women are among the population at risk.

UNICEF is particularly concerned that outbreaks of diseases - including cholera and typhoid - may begin soon. Many children are also suffering from diarrhoea, which can be deadly if untreated. The agency has sent protein biscuits and 400,000 sachets of water purification powder to the region.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) is also sending 100 tons of high-energy biscuits, which are densely nutritious and do not need to be cooked. "For the most vulnerable people, these biscuits could mean the difference between life and death, especially as so many of them no longer have the means to heat and prepare food," said WFP Country Director in Haiti Guy Gauvreau.

The WFP has already sent 226 tons of food to Gonaïves since 18 September, including 37,000 loaves of bread from local bakeries that worked around the clock.

The food aid is part of a relief campaign by UN agencies and the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), which is expediting the deployment of peacekeepers to try to support aid distribution. MINUSTAH troops have also been used to stop violent attacks on local distribution sites.

UNICEF said it has also set up 20 temporary shelters in Gonaïves for the homeless, but it remains concerned that some families are using public buildings without any organization or security, and possibly exposing their children to violence and abuse.

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