Tag Archives: CARIBBEAN

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Dominica struggles to recover from devastating storm Erika

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View of the Macoucherie river in Dominica after the Tropical Storm Erika Photo: Courtesy of Prime Minister of Dominica

The night of 26 August began as any other night for Mary Fontaine, her husband and their two children. The family live in the south-eastern community of Petite Savanne, in Dominica, a 290 sq. mile island country in the eastern Caribbean.

The Fontaines were aware of the weather forecast – which had warned of showers associated with Tropical Storm Erika, and Mary secured the family home. Such weather systems are common during Atlantic hurricane season – Erika would be the fifth tropical storm of the 2015 season. The island was at the height of a drought, and Mary was prepared for these much-needed showers.

But the more than 71,000 residents of this small, mountainous island were not prepared for the rain that pounded Dominica for 12 hours on Thursday 27 August, as Erika made its slow exit. All told, 12.64 inches of rain fell in that short period.

Disruption
As morning broke across Dominica, the full scale of the devastation became apparent. Landslides and rock falls had covered villages and blocked major roads. More than 12 major rivers had broken their banks, causing severe flooding and taking out vital bridges, disrupting water, electricity and telecommunication services.

Links with the outside world were cut, as flood waters and debris covered the tarmac at the main commercial airport in the east of the country, as well as the smaller landing strip in the capital, Roseau.

“I was roused from my sleep, and, when I got outside, it was just water, water, water everywhere,” recalls Mary. “I’ve been here all my life but never saw anything like this. It was disaster all around.” She frantically tried to account for family members who live in neighbouring houses.

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Mary Fontaine (left) who lives in the south-eastern community of Petite Savanne in Dominica survived tropical storm Erika. Her brother and his two sons are missing. © UNICEF Eastern Caribbean/2015/B.Henry

Devastation
Petite Savanne was hit hard. The community is home to 753 people. Eleven of the 20 confirmed dead and 21 of the 35 residents reported missing call that ravaged district home.  Among the missing are Mary’s brother and his two sons. Her niece was located, safe.

Devastation in the close-knit community is so widespread that the government has declared Petite Savanne and eight other communities special disaster areas. A decision was later taken to evacuate Petite Savanne and three other affected communities. All but a handful of residents in the communities have now said farewell to their homes.

Long-time resident of Petite Savanne Urban Baron described the scene as “worse than a war zone”.

“More than 50 houses were on the verge of collapse, and there were landslides everywhere,” said Urban. He described people digging through mud to free those who had been trapped under fallen houses. In many cases, the only tools were their bare hands.

Recovery
The road to recovery for Mary and the other residents of Petite Savanne – and the nearly 17,000 other residents of the island who have been affected severely by the storm – will be long and uncertain. Roads and bridges will be repaired, but emotional scars may run deep, in the island dubbed the ‘nature isle’ of the Caribbean.

The government has appealed for international assistance, and pledges are coming in.

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Supplies provided by UNICEF being packed in Barbados to be brought to Dominica. © UNICEF Eastern Caribbean/2015/D.Williams

UNICEF has so far dispatched 4,000 water purification tablets, more than 500 boxes of adult hygiene kits and 100 infant hygiene kits to the most affected areas. The organization is currently working with the Ministry of Education to ascertain the extent of damage to the education sector, ahead of the scheduled 7 September start of the school year.

Patrick Knight is UNICEF Eastern Caribbean Communication Specialist

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Toward better investments in children in Latin America

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© UNICEF El Salvador/Bell

When someone says that investing in children is important to ensure their rights are fulfilled, to reduce inequality and to build more democratic societies, politicians nod their heads in agreement without hesitation. However, to actually see such priorities reflected in public budgets is another story…

Despite feeling the impacts of the global crisis, most governments in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) have continued to increase social spending in general, and on children in particular. And not only have they increased the size of allocations dedicated to children, but they have also made concerted efforts to invest better.

Latin America has been a pioneer in measuring public investments in children. However, some countries in the region still don’t know how much of their public budgets are directed to persons under 18. If the old business adage that “only what is measured can be improved” is true, then quantifying child-focused spending is a necessary condition to monitor its evolution, determine its (in)adequacy and assess whether the lives of children are improving (or not).

In May 2015, representatives from 21 LAC countries congregated in Quito, Ecuador to discuss the importance of sufficient, timely and equitable investments in children and adolescents. The international seminar, Investing in Children in LAC: Toward more effective and equitable investment in children, was the third organized by UNICEF, following Bogota in 2013 and Lima in 2014. These recurring events focus on addressing the need to systematically and regularly measure public investments in children as well as strengthen the quality of spending. For example, whether public funds are used to paint schools or train teachers will have very different impacts on the lives of children.

Advancing public policy takes time. This series of workshops has enabled participants to share and learn from the experiences of others in this arena, and have further helped clarify the definition of Article 4 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which requires State Parties to utilize “the maximum extent of their available resources” for the realization of child rights.

Today we can say that LAC countries acknowledge the ethical, economic and political arguments in favour of investing in children, but above all, that they act accordingly. From greater child-focused allocations in Ecuador and Peru, to a specific earmark for children in Mexico’s annual budget process, to routine measurement in Guatemala and Honduras, examples abound.

That is why we keep working on three fronts. First, to understand the efforts that States dedicate – through public budgets – to fulfil child rights in all societies across LAC. Second, to deepen analyses, especially in terms of the quality and effectiveness of spending, where measurement is regularly taking place. And finally, to showcase LAC experiences globally and fuel advocacy for more and better investments in children in all regions.

In terms of the latter, the Quito discussions are informing the Third International Conference on Financing for Development, a high-level event being held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from 13-16 July 2015, which aims to secure the financial resources required to implement the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Specifically, the Government of Ecuador is hosting a side event to share LAC’s experience around funding child-focused programmes.

The forthcoming, new international development framework will only be as good as the underlying financing commitments. As a result, now is the time for Latin America to demonstrate to the world that measuring, monitoring and improving public investments in children is feasible and the cornerstone to fulfilling their rights.

Joaquín González-Alemán and Gerardo Escaroz are, respectively, Social Policy Regional Adviser and Specialist at the UNICEF Latin America and Caribbean Regional Office.

UNICEF field trip to visit the Wixarica, Nuevo Colonia, Santa Catarina, Jalisco, Mexico, October 15, 2014.
Also known as the Huichol, the Wixárika are an indigenous group with a rich spiritual life and mythological cosmology incorporating the use of peyote, long peregrinations, and ancient rituals. The children are vibrant, joyous, curious and full of life…as children are.

UNICEF wants to photograph throughout the Mexican state of Jalisco for a report documenting the lives of children in the region. We visited a number of rural and urban sites, though most memorable was the journey to the far north to visit the Wixárika people in the mountainous village of Santa Catarina.

Sobre la mayor y mejor inversión en la infancia de América Latina

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© UNICEF El Salvador/Bell

Cuando alguien dice que es importante invertir en la niñez para garantizar sus derechos, reducir desigualdades y así construir sociedades más democráticas, los políticos asienten con la cabeza y todo el mundo está de acuerdo. Lo difícil es ver estas prioridades reflejadas en los presupuestos públicos.

En estos últimos diez años, y a pesar de la crisis financiera y económica global que afectó a la mayoría de países, los gobiernos de América Latina y el Caribe han ido aumentando las asignaciones presupuestarias en el área social en general y en la infancia en particular.

No sólo los gobiernos invirtieron más, sino que han venido haciendo esfuerzos para invertir mejor.

Sin embargo, si bien América Latina ha sido pionera en medir la inversión pública en niños y niñas, también es cierto que hay países de esta región donde todavía no tenemos la certeza de cuánto se destina del presupuesto público para esta población. Si es cierto que sólo lo que se mide se puede mejorar, la cuantificación de estos recursos es una condición necesaria para conocer su evolución, determinar su suficiencia -o no- y evaluar si se están mejorando las vidas de las personas -en este caso, los niños- que viven en un país.

El pasado mes de mayo nos reunimos en Quito, Ecuador, con representantes de 21 países de América Latina y el Caribe para discutir la importancia de una inversión social suficiente, adecuada, oportuna y equitativa dirigida a niños, niñas y adolescentes.

El seminario internacional Inversión en la Niñez en América Latina y el Caribe: Hacia una inversión más eficaz y equitativa en la niñez es el tercero que organizamos, después de los de Bogotá en 2013 y Lima en 2014 para tratar la necesidad de medir periódica y sistemáticamente la inversión en la infancia y también de dirigir la mirada hacia la calidad del gasto. Por ejemplo, no es lo mismo gastar mucho dinero en pintar escuelas que en formar a profesores, lo que tendría un impacto directo en la vida de los niños.

El trabajo en el área de las políticas públicas requiere tiempo antes de ver sus resultados. Esta serie de seminarios ha servido para compartir las experiencias de los participantes, aprender del trabajo que los países realizan en este tema y proveer insumos para una definición más clara del Articulo 4 de la Convención sobre los Derechos del Niño, que estipula que los Estados Partes adoptarán medidas “hasta el máximo de los recursos de que dispongan” para hacer efectivos los derechos del niño.

Hoy podemos decir que los Estados latinoamericanos y caribeños reconocen los argumentos de orden ético, económico y político a favor de invertir en la niñez, pero sobre todo, que actúan en consecuencia. Los incrementos en el presupuesto dirigido a niños y adolescentes en Perú y Ecuador, el anexo presupuestal específico para la infancia en México o el rigor técnico de las mediciones en Honduras y Guatemala son algunos ejemplos.

Es por ello que trabajamos en tres frentes. Por un lado, para que todas las sociedades de la región conozcan con certeza los esfuerzos que sus Estados, a través de los presupuestos públicos, dedican a cumplir los derechos de los más jóvenes. Segundo, para que en aquellos países donde esta tarea ya se lleva a cabo se profundice en el análisis de su calidad y efectividad. Y tercero, que la experiencia latinoamericana sirva para abanderar la abogacía por una mayor y mejor inversión en la infancia y adolescencia a nivel global. Solamente el esfuerzo conjunto permitirá que la región cuente con Estados comprometidos, sociedades empoderadas y niños que disfrutan de los mismos derechos.

Además, lo discutido en el seminario de Quito es especialmente relevante y oportuno en el momento actual: Jefes de Estado, Ministros de Hacienda y la cooperación internacional se reunirán en Addis Abeba (Etiopia) del  13 al 16 de julio en la Tercera Conferencia Internacional sobre Financiación para el Desarrollo, para tratar de asegurar los recursos necesarios para implementar los próximos Objetivos de Desarrollo Sostenible hasta 2030.

Es el momento de asegurar una mejor inversión en los derechos de la infancia en el marco de estos objetivos. Pero solamente conociendo lo que gastamos hoy, podremos saber cuánto necesitaremos mañana y cómo habrá que invertirlo para hacer realidad esos derechos. En esto, América Latina tiene un camino avanzado que sería bueno mostrar al mundo.

Joaquín González-Alemán y Gerardo Escaroz son, respectivamente, Asesor Regional y Especialista del área de Políticas Públicas en la Oficina Regional de UNICEF para América Latina y el Caribe.