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FAIRFIELD, Conn. (September 7, 2017)— Millions of children in Haiti and the Dominican Republic are currently exposed to the devastating impact of what’s been dubbed the most powerful Atlantic storm in a decade.
Although Hurricane Irma’s path remains unclear after the eye of the storm hit the island of Barbuda where it wrought havoc on Wednesday, fears are growing as it hits Puerto Rico and heads toward the Dominican Republic, with wind speeds reaching 185mph.
In the Dominican Republic, emergency teams are working with armed forces and the police to evacuate civilians across 17 provinces in the north and east. It’s believed up to 3 million people are affected - some 40 percent of whom live in poverty. With designated shelters able to accommodate just 900,000 people, emergency response teams are now turning to churches, schools and community centers as alternatives.
Save The Children has deployed its Emergency Health Unit (EHU) to the Dominican Republic so that specialist teams are ready to help families and children in the worst-hit areas. Even if the storm doesn’t directly hit, we are likely to see heavy rains, extreme winds and possibly flooding.
Haiti too is bracing itself for the worst, less than one year since Hurricane Matthew wrought havoc on the country, killing more than 800 people and crippling infrastructure. Save the Children is also closely monitoring the storm as it makes a projected turn toward the continental United States where evacuations have been ordered.
Ascension Martinez, Save the Children’s Director of Program Quality and Advocacy in Haiti, confirmed that health centers and schools have become emergency contact points.
"This hurricane will mean heavy rains and floods for Haiti, where the poorest communities are still suffering from the consequences of the last hurricane to hit the country, just under a year ago.
"Haiti struggles with chronic malnutrition, and getting supplies in preparation for such extreme weather is simply not an option for most of the families we work with."
Director of the Emergency Health Unit, Unni Krishnan, has worked extensively in regions hit by what he calls monster storms.
"Deadly storms have a bias against children. Storms often leave a lasting impact on young minds. Relief efforts should prioritize children – their needs, their emotional well-being," said Krishnan.
"The best way to beat a hurricane is to stop it from happening. While the priority for the next few days should be to provide life-saving humanitarian assistance, addressing climate change is a key factor in reducing the frequency and ferocity of storms in the future. Investing in disaster risk reduction and bolstering the resilience of communities are key to break the cycle of disasters and the misery they bring."
Note to Editors: *Spokespeople are available in the Dominican Republic and Haiti*
Save the Children gives children in the United States and around the world a healthy start, the opportunity to learn and protection from harm. We invest in childhood — every day, in times of crisis and for our future. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.