More than 10.5 million children live in the countries that are likely to be exposed to the damage from Hurricane Irma, UNICEF warned. Based on the storm’s current trajectory, children in the islands of the Eastern Caribbean, Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Cuba are at risk, including over 3 million under 5 years old. UNICEF is concerned that hundreds of thousands of children could suffer the worst effects of the storm, with those living in coastal zones at highest risk.
“Strong winds and torrential rains have already barreled through some of the smallest and most exposed islands in the eastern Caribbean, including Anguilla and Barbuda,” said Patrick Knight, Head of Communication for UNICEF in the Eastern Caribbean, speaking from Barbados.
“As the extent of the damage becomes clear we are seeing severe levels of destruction. Our priority is to reach all those children and families in the affected communities as soon as possible.”
Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 storm, traveled across various islands of the Eastern Caribbean on Wednesday, leaving a trail of destruction in its path, especially in Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands, Barbuda and Turks and Caicos Islands. Early estimates suggest that 74,000 people, including 20,000 children, have been affected in these islands.
According to local authorities, communication networks in many of the affected areas have been affected either totally or partially. Infrastructure, including roads, bridges, hospitals, and schools have also suffered varying degrees of damage. In Barbuda, 90 per cent of the infrastructure has been destroyed, and it is anticipated that this will include up to 132 schools.
UNICEF’s immediate concern is providing drinking water and sanitation to affected communities, as well providing child protection services for both children and adolescents, including psycho-social support for those affected. UNICEF will also support the reestablishment of education systems and early learning systems as safe spaces.
In advance of the storm, UNICEF prepositioned life-saving humanitarian supplies in Antigua, Barbuda and Barbados to ensure a rapid distribution of these goods to affected populations in coordination with local authorities. These supplies include water, food and medicine, water treatment supplies, hygiene kits, provisional shelters and education materials.
Hurricane Irma is projected to continue its devastating path west, with the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Cuba at risk in the coming hours and days.