Tag Archives: humanitarian emergency

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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

In Pakistan, a man carrying a young girl walks through floodwaters in Punjab Province. © UNICEF/NYHQ2014-1556/Zaidi

What does it take to prepare for a humanitarian emergency?

Here are five ways that UNICEF and the World Food Programme (WFP) are working together to ensure countries are better prepared for the moment when disaster strikes.

1. Keeping life-saving supplies close at hand
Certain parts of the world are prone to floods, droughts, earthquakes and other crises. In these areas, one of the best ways to ensure that life-saving supplies are available as soon as possible after a disaster happens is to pre-position, or stockpile them in advance.

We saw the benefits of this approach in 2014 in Chad, where UNICEF was quickly able to distribute materials such as health supplies, soap, and water purification tablets. This helped to prevent small-scale cholera outbreaks from spreading into a wider epidemic. Read more about our response to the cholera outbreak in Chad.

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A community volunteer in Chad protects her community from cholera outbreaks by treating household water supplies. ©UNICEF Chad/2014/Manuel Moreno

 

2. Strengthening systems to respond rapidly in emergencies
When an emergency occurs, it is vital to have the right systems and infrastructure in place and swiftly available. This includes mobilizing personnel and funding, as well as logistical support. A basic requirement is for real time information – both from those people affected by an emergency as well as for them. One way of doing this is through mobile phone-based communication tools such as RapidSMS, an innovative technology used by UNICEF.

Another important element is to ensure that infrastructure – for example an airstrip – is available in areas prone to emergencies, so they can serve as a logistical lifeline when a crisis hits. In eastern Chad, WFP rehabilitated the Tissi airstrip, making it possible for humanitarian flights to land even during the rainy season in one of the country’s most remote areas.

The Tissi airstrip in Chad. (c) UNICEF/Mari Denby

3. Training emergency responders
UNICEF and WFP train staff and partners in emergency preparedness and response, to improve their capacity to respond when the situation arises. This training also includes knowledge on how to build on already-existing coping mechanisms that exist in the affected communities. An example of this kind of training is an emergency simulation, in which participants learn and prepare for emergencies by role-playing and taking part in real-time scenarios. With the backing of UK Aid, UNICEF and WFP organized 14 simulations in 12 countries in 2014.

Tents housing families displaced by Cyclone Fanele stand along a stretch of sand in the city of Morondava, Madagascar. © UNICEF/NYHQ2009-1165/Ramanankoto

Tents housing families displaced by Cyclone Fanele stand along a stretch of sand in the city of Morondava, Madagascar. © UNICEF/NYHQ2009-1165/Ramanankoto

4. Supporting stronger national preparedness systems
In Madagascar, UNICEF has placed technical experts to help government offices manage regular and emergency programmes. In Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, government staff were trained to work effectively together in case of cross-border emergencies. The Government of Myanmar received UNICEF and WFP support to strengthen its logistics and supply procurement. In Pakistan, the government was assisted in developing disaster-awareness materials including storybooks which enable teachers to educate children about the risks they may face.

In Pakistan, a man carrying a young girl walks through floodwaters in Punjab Province. © UNICEF/NYHQ2014-1556/Zaidi

In Pakistan, a man carrying a young girl walks through floodwaters in Punjab Province. © UNICEF/NYHQ2014-1556/Zaidi

5. Building the case that preparedness saves lives, time and money
UNICEF and WFP believe that early preparedness not only saves lives, but also reduces costs and increases the speed of humanitarian response. And we are currently working to demonstrate this, using data from global- and country-level operations. A joint study on the return on investment for humanitarian preparedness is due to be released in early 2015.

The UK Government has contributed ($30 million or about GBP 20 million) to support efforts by UNICEF and WFP to strengthen emergency preparedness.