One month after hurricane, aid groups target Haiti’s women and children

Sailors and Marines load food for delivery after Hurricane Matthew. (U.S. Navy photo by Hunter S. Harwell/Flickr)

One month after Hurricane Matthew roared through Haiti and destroyed the homes and livelihoods of some 1.4 million people, U.N. agencies and other responders are striving to provide adequate care for women and children.

The Category 4 storm, which hit the Caribbean country on Oct. 4, devastated numerous hospitals and shelter facilities in Grand’ Anse, Nippes and other areas of southern Haiti. Widespread flooding has also contributed to mass displacement, leaving hundreds of thousands to seek safety in public shelters, sometimes without adequate access to clean water or sanitation.

Survivors in Port Salut, Haiti. (Credit: Vincent DeGennaro, Innovating Health International)

Survivors in Port Salut, Haiti. (Credit: Vincent DeGennaro, Innovating Health International)

Crises target women and children

Even before the hurricane, Haiti had the highest maternal and infant death rates in the Western Hemisphere. Now, with so many hospitals inaccessible, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) warned that rates of maternal and newborn mortality could rise even more. Some 546,000 women of reproductive age in Haiti are affected by the disaster, the organization warned in a press release, and an estimated 13,650 women are expected to give birth in the next three months.

The U.N. also estimated that 10,920 women and adolescent girls are at risk of sexual violence.

“It’s important to provide options for women so they are not vulnerable to sexual exploitation, sex for cash and human trafficking,” said Anthony Ngororano, head of U.N. Women in Haiti, told Reuters late last month.

“Trafficking and sexual exploitation of women and girls is all too much of a reality,” he said. “This is accentuated by crises like these.”

The U.N. Children Fund (UNICEF) has emphasized the danger of Haiti’s children, stating that nearly 600,000 need humanitarian assistance, the agency said last Friday. Access to clean water, food and sanitation are top concerns, as well as providing safe shelters for an estimated 50,000 children who have been left without homes.

UNICEF also reported at least 1,000 suspected cholera cases among children in the past month.

Haitian families in Grand'Anse on October 6. (European Commission DG ECHOF/Flickr)

Haitian families in Grand’Anse on October 6. (European Commission DG ECHOF/Flickr)

Race to respond

Aid groups have been particularly pressed to prevent further spread of cholera, an infectious disease that has ripped through Haiti since the beginning of the epidemic in 2010. Yesterday, Haiti launched the largest-ever cholera vaccination campaign to immunize up to 800,000 people. UNICEF and other aid organizations are also providing cholera prevention kits that contain water purification tablets, soap and oral rehydration salts.

For pregnant women, UNFPA said it will deploy teams of midwives in the most affected areas, rehabilitate six maternity units that were damaged by the hurricane and will provide ‘Relief Baby Boxes’ for 2,000 newborns. The agency is also stocking health facilities with emergency reproductive health kits with equipment, medicines and supplies to benefit 390,000 people for the next three months.

For children, aid groups said their focus is to stave off dehydration and malnutrition and to rebuild destroyed schools and reunite children with relatives will be key to preventing child exploitation. World Vision has also said it aims to set up nearly 30 centers to provide psychological care to children and to protect those who are separated from or lost their families.

“Too many children are still homeless, hungry, out of school and in danger,” said Marc Vincent, UNICEF Representative in Haiti. “We are scaling up our response and are determined to help as many of them as possible as fast as we can.”

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Lisa Nikolau

Lisa Nikolau is a Madrid-based reporter for Humanosphere, covering gender equality, indigenous rights and poverty in Latin America and worldwide. Find her on Twitter at @lisanikolau, email lisa.nikolau@humanosphere.org or see her latest work at www.lisanikolau.com