UNITED NATIONS – The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has warned that storms and the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic pose a “double threat” for children in Central America and the Caribbean.
UNICEF said that more than 70 million children in the region impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic could soon face catastrophic hurricane storms.
“In the coming days and weeks, children and families will be at risk of being hit simultaneously by two disasters, COVID-19 and hurricanes,” said Bernt Aasen, UNICEF Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean.
While acknowledging that displacement, infrastructure damage and service interruptions caused by storms – particularly in coastal areas – could render individuals more vulnerable to the disease and its impacts, the UN children’s agency expressed special concern that a powerful storm could severely undermine ongoing efforts to stem COVID-19.
UNICEF said the coronavirus could spread easily in crowded emergency shelters or displacement sites where physical distancing would be difficult to ensure.
At the same time, it said existing control measures, like hand washing, could falter if water, sanitation and health infrastructure were to be damaged or destroyed.
“This is the perfect storm we fear for the Caribbean and Central America,” Aasen said.
In addition to straining national and local health systems in the region, Aasen said the pandemic is also raising serious questions about the aftermath of a catastrophic hurricane, including movement restrictions and budget shortfalls, “which may hinder national hurricane preparedness efforts.
“As we continue to take precautions to keep families safe from COVID-19, efforts to prepare for hurricane now are vital to mitigate the spread of virus among the most vulnerable communities”, Aasen said.
UNICEF reported in a recent Child Alert that, over the coming years, the Caribbean region is expected to experience intensified storms and subsequent population displacements.
In late May, UNICEF said tropical storm Amanda caused flooding and landslides in parts of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
It said at least 33 people were killed in the region, and thousands were displaced. All three countries have confirmed cases of COVID-19, UNICEF said.
In the 10-year period, from 2010 to 2019, it said storms caused 895,000 new displacements of children in the Caribbean and 297,000 in Central America.
UNICEF said it is working across the region to support hurricane preparedness efforts and public health responses to COVID-19 through education, community outreach and technical support.
In collaboration with governments and other partners, the children’s agency said it is working to build disaster resilience among communities in the region, including by adjusting hurricane preparedness and response plans to reflect COVID-19 risks with a focus on vulnerable groups, like children, pregnant women and single-headed female families.
Moreover, UNICEF said it is also working to improve coordination mechanisms and tools for “timely needs assessments and response based on evidence.”
It said it is also working with regional governments on climate change adaptation policies “to ensure that they are child sensitive and informed by the long-term perspectives of youth and adolescents”.