Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Haiti: Two Years After Haiti Earthquake, Small Victories For Children But Serious Challenges Remain


UNICEF today released a report showing that two years after the earthquake that devastated parts of Haiti, the situation for children in the country is slowly improving, though critical challenges remain.

According to the report, there is clear evidence of healing and progress for children, particularly in the areas of education, health, nutrition and child protection.

UNICEF has helped more than 750,000 children return to school. Some 80,000 of them are now attending classes in 193 safe, earthquake-resistant schools constructed by the organization, and more than 120,000 children enjoy structured play in 520 child-friendly spaces. More than 15,000 malnourished children have received life-saving care in 314 therapeutic feeding programs supported by UNICEF. In addition, 95 rural communities have launched new programs to improve sanitation.

In the area of child protection, the government of Haiti has taken the major step to strengthen 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 centers have been assessed, and more than 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.

"There is evidence of little victories everywhere, although serious gaps and inadequacies in Haiti's basic governance structures remain," said Francoise 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 most of the 4,316,000 children under 18 years of age in Haiti still only have limited opportunities for survival, development and protection. Although they begin 2012 with a new government and national budget, children are affected by the various challenges that remain for a country where the scars of disaster are still visible on the infrastructure, institutions and social systems. More than 500,000 people still shelter in some 800 different displacement sites across earthquake-affected areas. Some 77 percent of people were renters before the earthquake, meaning most have no homes to which to return. An outbreak of cholera in the earthquake's wake continues to place an additional burden on already severely limited infrastructure and services. To read the full report visit www.unicefusa.org/haitireport.

"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 mobilized 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 program" for earthquake recovery, continues to implement a mix of humanitarian relief, capacity development for institutional re-building and advocacy, in order to address both acute and chronic challenges that prevent the realization of child rights. However, funding gaps still remain. UNICEF is appealing for $24 million for immediate humanitarian needs in 2012 to support vulnerable children through five key programs in health, nutrition, water and sanitation, education, and child protection. Another $30 million is needed for longer-term development assistance.

UNICEF says keeping children safe, healthy and learning is a mutual goal—one shared by parents, teachers, public and private sector entities, religious organizations, the new government and others across the nation. A wide range of partners are working together to innovate, problem-solve and generate momentum to bring about a sustainable future for the children of Haiti.

"The American public was extraordinarily generous in the wake of the Haiti earthquake, helping save countless children's lives, and their support has been absolutely critical to the progress made in the last two years," said Caryl Stern, President and CEO of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, which is single the largest donor organization to UNICEF's Haiti programs, having raised more than $77 million in response to the emergency. "Still, the job is far from over, and UNICEF remains steadfast in its commitment to the survival, health and well-being of all children in Haiti. The media spotlight may come and go, but we will be there for the long road to recovery."

In an effort to keep children central to Haiti's recovery, the U.S. Fund for UNICEF is re-launching Haiti 365 at www.UNICEFHaiti365.org as a unique forum for sharing and hearing the voices of Haitian youth. This new bilingual, interactive dialogue will be open to anyone concerned about Haiti's fate and curious about daily life in the country. The U.S. Fund for UNICEF invites the public to join the conversation, and help raise the voices of Haitian children who will shape the country's future.