UNICEF has warned that across Central America and the Caribbean, more than 70 million children are directly or indirectly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of those children living in coastal areas of Central America and the Caribbean could face the additional threat of catastrophic storms as the 2020 hurricane season moves into a more active phase.
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.
The children’s agency is especially concerned that a powerful storm could severely undermine ongoing efforts to stop the transmission of the disease. The virus could spread easily in crowded emergency shelters or displacement sites where physical distancing would be difficult to ensure. At the same time, existing control measures like handwashing and effective case management could falter if essential water, sanitation, and health infrastructure were to be damaged or destroyed.
The pandemic is already putting national and local health systems in the region under significant strain, raising serious questions about how they would fare in the aftermath of a catastrophic hurricane. Meanwhile, movement restrictions and budget shortfalls linked to the pandemic may be hindering national hurricane preparedness efforts.
UNICEF Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, Bernt Aasen said, “In the coming days and weeks, children and families will be at risk of being hit simultaneously by two disasters, COVID-19 and hurricanes. This is the perfect storm we fear for the Caribbean and Central America. 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 the virus among the most vulnerable communities.”
In just 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.
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 to governments. UNICEF is also encouraging local and national authorities to ensure that hurricane response plans are adapted to reflect risks associated with the pandemic and to expand access to essential services including health, protection, water, and sanitation for vulnerable children and families.
In collaboration with governments, NGO´s and private sector partners, UNICEF is working to build disaster resilience among communities in the Caribbean and Central America.