PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti–(ENEWSPF)–2 February 2010 – UNICEF has maintained a presence in Haiti since 1949. The earthquake that struck this country with such disastrous force on 12 January has significantly affected the agency’s capacity to respond, but staff members have been adapting to difficult conditions on the ground.
Their work has been critical to ensuring that life-saving supplies reach children in need. The crisis in Haiti is a children’s emergency; nearly 40 per cent of all Haitians are under the age of 14, and many children remain at risk.
Relocated from damaged offices
On 12 January, UNICEF’s offices in its two main buildings in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, sustained considerable damage – forcing the relocation of staff and operations to the logistics base of the UN peacekeeping force in Haiti, known as MINUSTAH.
“While we realized that we needed to act quickly to respond to the needs of the Haitian people,” said UNICEF Representative in Haiti Guido Cornale, “my immediate concern was the well-being of our national staff, who themselves are Haitian and work for UNICEF. These are people who, like much of the community, lost their homes and loved ones in the earthquake.”
Operating with the most basic supplies, staff members gathered at the temporary camp the day after the quake. They held meetings in the open air and sat on cinderblock stools as they coordinated the emergency response.
“We were able to get some tarpaulin about a day or two after we arrived, so at least we were shielded from the sun,” said UNICEF Haiti Operations Manager Roseline Araman. “The first essential action for us was the activation of satellite phones, since the entire telecommunications system here was knocked out.”
Staff supplies and relief
Located next to the Port-au-Prince airport, the MINUSTAH logistics base is a sprawling compound of shipping containers, trailers and tented barracks from which blue-helmeted UN troops conduct tactical training. Cargo planes buzz overhead, and the dusty roads are perpetually clogged with heavy trucks, forklifts and four-wheel-drive vehicles.
UNICEF’s camp is sandwiched between the On-Site Operations Coordination Centre tent and the base’s fire-safety trailer.
About a week after the quake hit, UNICEF received its first-large capacity tent. At the same time, staff supplies and relief aid – which had been pre-positioned at UNICEF’s regional warehouse in Panama City – were flowing into Haiti. Much of this aid entered the country through the neighbouring Dominican Republic. Additional supply planes from other locations followed, for a total of more than 15 flights to date.
Twenty days after the quake, the UNICEF camp now has two large tents providing staff living quarters and workspace for operations in a range of sectors, including water and sanitation, child protection, health, nutrition and education.
International staff deployed
UNICEF has deployed emergency personnel from New York, Geneva, Copenhagen and Panama City to bolster and supplement the emergency response launched by the Haiti staff. Among other activities:
- A logistical team in the UNICEF camp coordinates the storage and distribution of food, tents, blankets and other living and working necessities that the staff needs operate on a daily basis.
- A satellite dish provides a reliable signal for essential telecommunications with the outside world.
- A system for reserving UNICEF vehicles and drivers has been a crucial function of the emergency operation, since assessment teams need to be dispatched quickly to districts throughout Port-au-Prince and areas outside of the capital.
Delivering for children
Every day at 7 a.m., the entire UNICEF team convenes to receive a security briefing and share information on the latest action taken in each sector. These updates are compiled and incorporated into a daily situation report that is shared with UNICEF staff worldwide, as well as partner agencies and non-governmental organizations in Haiti.
The daily updates are essential to advancing the sector-by-sector emergency response strategy and allocating the appropriate level of funding to address the needs of the affected population.
Later this week, the UNICEF operation is scheduled to move once again – this time, to a much larger compound in the Port-au-Prince community of Tabarre. The compound will hold 10 large-capacity warehouse tents for supplies. It will also have four large, pre-fabricated buildings to serve as living and working accommodations for UNICEF staff as they continue delivering for Haiti’s children.