Storms, COVID-19 pose dual threat for children in Central America and Caribbean: UNICEF

New Delhi (NVI): More than 70 million children across Central America and the Caribbean affected by the COVID-19 pandemic could face the additional threat of catastrophic storms as the hurricane season moves into a active phase, warned the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

According to UNICEF statement, this displacement, infrastructure damage and service interruption caused by storms, particularly in coastal areas, could leave children and families more vulnerable to the disease and its impacts.

In addition to this, the UN children’s agency expressed special concern that a powerful storm could severely undermine ongoing efforts to stop transmission of the disease.

The coronavirus could spread easily in crowded emergency shelters or displacement sites where physical distancing would be difficult to ensure, the UNICEF said.

It said, too, that existing control measures like handwashing and effective case management could falter if essential 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,” said Bernt Aasen, UNICEF Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean.

“This is the perfect storm we fear for the Caribbean and Central America,” Aasen added.

Meanwhile, in addition to straining national and local health systems in the region, 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.

As per the UNICEF report in a recent Child Alert, the Caribbean region in particular is expected to see an increase in the intensity of storms and subsequent population displacement over the coming years.

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, including one child, and thousands were displaced. All three countries have confirmed cases of COVID-19.

And in the period of 10 year from 2010 to 2019, storms caused 8,95,000 new displacements of children in the Caribbean and 2,97,000 in Central America, as per the UN agency.

Across the region, UNICEF is working to support hurricane preparedness efforts and public health responses to COVID-19 through education, community outreach and technical support.

However, in collaboration with governments, NGO’s and private sector partners, the UN agency is working to build disaster resilience among communities in the region.

It will work by adjusting hurricane preparedness and response plans to reflect COVID-19 risks with a focus on vulnerable groups, like children, single-headed female families and pregnant women.

The UN agency is also working to improve coordination mechanisms and tools for timely needs assessments and response based on evidence and also working 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.

-RJV