UNICEF today expressed concern for the well-being of young children and vulnerable people in Belize as potentially life-threatening cases of diarrhoea, stomach cramps, and fever increased following Hurricane Dean’s destructive sweep through the country.
The hurricane’s force caused wide-spread power failure, affecting the water supply to villages that are dependent on electric water-pumps.
“The scarcity of drinking water and water for sanitation has led many people to use poor quality water from previously abandoned wells and being exposed to an increased risk of water-borne diseases”, said Ms. Rana Flowers, UNICEF Representative in Belize. “We must take great care to ensure that particularly children do not drink or use bad water.”
Dirty water is just one of the many challenges the affected population is facing.
Though Dean’s impact on the northern districts of Belize could have been much worse, it is estimated that about 30,000 people or over - 10 per cent of the total population - in both urban and rural areas were directly affected. Close to 275 houses have been destroyed and at least 900 more have varying degrees of structural damage and loss of essential household items. This damage contributed significantly to the displacement of around 2,000 people, many of whom remain in shelters.
The majority of the community shelters are school buildings and with classes scheduled to begin on 3 September emphasis has now been placed on ensuring that families are not removed before a safe space is found while their homes are repaired.
There are also six primary schools that have sustained substantial damage to roofing, buildings, equipment and books.
Despite efforts, some communities have yet to receive support needed food and water. Unemployment threatens the livelihoods of an estimated 20,000 farm labourers due to crop destruction.
Since the hurricane made landfall on Tuesday, 21 August, UNICEF has supported the Government of Belize in conducting detailed assessments; providing vehicles and technical assistance for further assessments and delivery of life saving supplies; helping secure generators to power water pumps and delivering safe water to families in the most affected communities. Water purification tablets and oral rehydration salts have also been essential components in the UNICEF response.
In addition to the initial rapid assessments, UNICEF has conducted ongoing assessments of the needs of women and children made homeless in Corozal and Orange Walk Districts including to protection concerns.
Coordination is critical in emergencies and UNICEF continues to advocate that the rights of children are first priority in the national response and in its collaboration with Government, the Red Cross and other UN agencies and partners.
UNICEF has also agreed to work with the World Food Programme (WFP) in the provision of food to one thousand families for two months.
UNICEF has sought additional financial support to address the ongoing lack of food and water, a shortage of medicines, a need for generators and supplies to repair damaged homes and schools, support needed for the most disadvantaged and displaced families, a need for psycho-social support particularly to children.
For further information, please contact the UNICEF UK Press Office, 020 7430 0162 or [email protected]