Storms, coronavirus pose double threat for children in Central America and Caribbean — UNICEF

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Storms, coronavirus pose double threat for children in Central America and Caribbean — UNICEF

Monday, August 03, 2020

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GENEVA, Switzerland — The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) today warned that the more than 70 million children impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic across Central America and the Caribbean could soon face displacement, infrastructure damage and service interruptions caused by hurricanes, making them more vulnerable to the disease.

The UN children's agency expressed concern that a powerful storm could severely undermine ongoing efforts to stem COVID-19 as the coronavirus could spread easily in crowded emergency shelters or displacement sites where physical distancing would be difficult to ensure.

It said, too, that existing control measures like handwashing could falter if water, sanitation and health infrastructure were to be damaged or destroyed.

“In the coming days and weeks, children and families will be at risk of being hit simultaneously by two disasters, COVID-19 and hurricanes,” cautioned Bernt Aasen, UNICEF regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean. “This is the perfect storm we fear for the Caribbean and Central America.”

As UNICEF reported in a recent Child Alert, over the coming years the Caribbean region is expected to experience intensified storms and subsequent population displacements.

In late May, tropical storm Amanda caused flooding and landslides in parts of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. At least 33 people were killed in the region and thousands were displaced. All three countries have confirmed cases of COVID-19.

And in the 10-year period from 2010 to 2019, storms caused 895,000 new displacements of children in the Caribbean and 297,000 in Central America, according to the UN children's agency.

“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 explained.

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 agency 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,” the agency said.

It also said it is working to improve coordination mechanisms and tools for timely needs assessments and response based on evidence and with Governments on climate change adaptation policies to ensure that they are child sensitive and informed by the long-term perspectives of youth and adolescents.

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