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UNICEF (UN Children’s Fund) released a report today showing that two years after the magnitude 7.0 earthquake that devastated parts of Haiti on January 12 2010, the situation for children in the country is slowly improving though critical challenges remain.
Dennis McKinlay, Executive Director at UNICEF NZ, said: “As we know from our own experiences here in New Zealand, the road to recovery from a large-scale earthquake is long-term and complex from a practical and from a human perspective.
“The earthquake in Haiti killed approximately 316,000 people and those who survived have faced a multitude of challenges. Children are always particularly vulnerable to the physical and psychological impacts in a disaster, especially true in Haiti where almost half the population is under 14 years of age, but UNICEF’s report shows clear evidence of healing and progress, particularly in the areas of education, health, nutrition and child protection.”
UNICEF has been helping the people of Haiti ‘build back better’ by:
· Constructing 193 safe, earthquake-resistant schools for 80,000 children to attend classes.
· Helping more than 750,000 children return to school, such as by providing learning materials.
· Enabling over 120,000 children to enjoy structured play in one of 520 child friendly spaces.
· Helping 95 rural communities launch new programmes to improve sanitation.
· Supporting 314 therapeutic feeding programmes which have provided more than 15,000 malnourished children with life-saving care.
In the area of child protection, a major step has been that the government of Haiti has strengthened its legal framework for institutionalized children. Prior to the earthquake the government did not know how many children were living in institutions - or even where they were.
Now, with UNICEF’s support, the first ever Directory of Residential Care Facilities has been launched; so far more than half of the country’s 650 centres have been assessed; and over 13,400 children (out of an estimated 50,000 living in residential care) have been registered. The government has also signed the Hague Convention on Inter-Country Adoption, which protects the rights of children, birth parents, and adoptive parents by establishing minimum standards for adoptions. This is significant in protecting children from trafficking and abuse.
"There is evidence of little victories everywhere, although serious gaps and inadequacies in Haiti’s basic governance structures remain,” said Françoise Gruloos-Ackermans, UNICEF’s representative in Haiti. “Make no mistake: the country remains a fragile state, beset by chronic poverty and under-development. Its weak institutions leave children vulnerable to shocks and the impact of disaster.”
The report notes that with 4,316,000 children under 18, most of them still only have limited opportunities for survival, development and protection. Although they begin 2012 with a long-awaited new government and national budget, children are affected by the various challenges which remain for a country where the scars of disaster are still visible on the infrastructure, institutions and social systems.
More than 500,000 individuals still shelter in over 800 different displacement sites across the earthquake-affected area. Some 77 per cent were renters before the earthquake, meaning most have no homes to return to. An outbreak of cholera in the period after the earthquake continues to place an additional burden on already severely limited infrastructure and services.
“The country will need strong and steadfast support to overcome the challenges it still faces,” said Gruloos-Ackermans. “While the death toll and destruction from the earthquake were unmatched in modern times, the resources mobilised in the wake of disaster were also exceptional,” she added. “Together they present a ‘once a lifetime’ opportunity to set Haiti on a course that arrests and reverses decades of degradation and mismanagement.”
UNICEF, in the last year of its “transitional programme” for earthquake recovery, continues to implement a mix of humanitarian relief, capacity development for institutional re-building and advocacy simultaneously, in order to address both acute and chronic challenges that prevent the realisation of child rights. However, funding gaps still remain. UNICEF is appealing for US $24 million for immediate humanitarian needs in 2012 to support vulnerable children through five key projects in health, nutrition, water and sanitation, education, and child protection. Another US $30 million is needed for longer term development assistance.
McKinlay added, “Over the past two years Kiwi dollars have actively helped UNICEF to ‘build back better’ in Haiti, creating real and long-lasting change for the country’s children. Yet, as is true of Christchurch also, there is still a long way to go in re-building bricks and lives and this must be a shared effort.
“Keeping Haiti’s children safe, healthy and learning is a mutual goal for a wide range of partners. Together we are working to innovate, problem-solve and generate momentum to lead to a sustainable future for the children of Haiti.”
Donate to the UNICEF NZ Haiti Earthquake Fund at www.unicef.org.nz/haiti