Haiti: Devastation, Tragic Loss of Life and Immediate Need for Worldwide Support

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

UNICEF joins so many around the world with our thoughts, prayers and support to help those impacted by the devastating earthquake and aftershocks that have struck in Haiti. Our hearts go out to the families whose lives have been affected by this tragedy.

In addition to what appears to be large loss of life and injuries, early reports indicate massive infrastructure damage, including schools that have collapsed, homes destroyed, and hospitals overwhelmed by the large numbers of injured coming in for medical assistance. While communications are extremely difficult and accurate information is still scarce, it is clear that the consequences are severe and many children are among the victims.

UNICEF is deploying necessary supplies to Haiti as quickly as possible to assist with recovery efforts including clean water and sanitation, therapeutic foods, medical supplies and temporary shelter. Today, we authorized nearly $2.9 million in funding for start-up relief operations. As well, the first of many flights containing UNICEF supplies is on its way to the region thanks to the support from partners such as the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and DHL whose aircrafts will transport the first wave of essential supplies from UNICEF's regional office in Panama.

These emergency supplies include health kits, tarpaulins, water containers, water purification tablets, water testing kits, oral rehydration sachets, GPS receivers, portable warehouses, tents, trauma kits, and water tanks, among other necessities.

We know, based on UNICEF's experience with emergencies, that the first 72 hours are crucial to efforts to rescuing victims from the rubble and devastation. Also, preventing the spread of disease and ensuring that displaced families have essential needs such as shelter, clean water and food are critical to prevent further deaths, injury and illness.

We will also be focusing our efforts on children who have become separated from their families, help reunite them and protect them from harm or exploitation. Expert estimates suggest that 46 per cent of Haiti's nearly 10 million people are under 18 years of age. The special needs of children for food, shelter and protection, must be factored in at the very outset of relief efforts and UNICEF will do everything in its power to make sure these needs are met.

Prior to the earthquake, the situation for children and women was marked by great vulnerability as Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world. The country has struggled to recover from years of violence, insecurity and instability as well as from other natural disasters. Now the worst earthquake to hit the country in 200 years will make the humanitarian relief and recovery efforts even more challenging but must be overcome. 2010-01-13-HaitiEarthquake.jpg

With so many living in such close quarters - and with access to safe water and sanitation severely compromised even in the best of times - vulnerability to life-threatening, waterborne diseases can skyrocket when a natural disaster strikes. So, too, can difficulties in delivering much-needed food, medical supplies and protection services. Children are the ones most likely to suffer the worst consequences.

This is why now more than ever, immediate humanitarian support and assistance is needed from people and nation's around the world to save and protect the most vulnerable.

In the wake of his horrific tragedy and heartache there will be countless stories of devastation but also those of hope and goodwill. UNICEF joins with the rest of the world in coming together with all the resources and means possible to help the people of Haiti in this time of great need. We urge those who want to assist to take action now through support of international relief organizations such as UNICEF as the urgent need for additional resources are critical, particularly during the early stages of this large-scale humanitarian effort to save and protect precious lives.

Ann Veneman is Executive Director of UNICEF. UNICEF is providing immediate humanitarian relief and assistance in Haiti in the wake of the devastating earthquake. To learn more about UNICEF's efforts and how to donate or help, visit www.unicef.org.