Hurricane Dorian

Hurricane Dorian: Bahamas death toll expected to rise as thousands remain missing

 

U.S. Coast Guard District 7 The US Coast Guard has been supporting response efforts in the Bahamas following Hurricane Dorian.

U.S. Coast Guard District 7
The US Coast Guard has been supporting response efforts in the Bahamas following Hurricane Dorian.

As the UN and other aid partners respond to huge humanitarian needs in the hurricane-struck northern Bahamas, latest reports indicate that the death toll is likely to increase substantially, the head of an emergency medical relief team said on Friday.

“We certainly expect the death toll to rise, I can’t tell you what that would be, but we’re really worried about it,” Dr. Ian Norton, Manager of the World Health (WHO) Emergency Medical Teams Initiative, told journalists in Geneva.

In the eye of the storm, you either drown, or survive

“What we’ve seen unfortunately in this devastating storm surge – especially in a stationary storm – (it) produces what you would see maybe after a tsunami”, Dr. Norton added. “And what we don’t see in those cases is injuries as such, we see unfortunately a lot of people drowned and losing their lives – drowning or surviving.”

As of Friday morning local time, 30 people are confirmed to have died after Hurricane Dorian hit the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama last weekend with maximum wind speeds of 297 kilometres per hour (185 mph).

But the Government says that thousands are still missing after the Category 5 storm brought with it a storm surge of 18 to 23 feet (5.5 to seven metres) and 76,000 people are believed to be homeless, in need of assistance.

The extreme level of destruction has been attributed by UN weather experts at the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) to the fact that Dorian “remained stationary, thus exacerbating the impacts of the hazards: wind, rain, waves and storm surge”.

In a statement on Friday, UN Migration Agency, IOM, said that “only minimal information” was available from the affected islands and that more detailed assessments of people’s requirements are urgently needed.

Flooding and blocked roads blocking people from reaching shelters

Among its priorities, the agency is providing 1,000 tarpaulins to replace roofs “stripped” from homes by the hurricane.

Citing official sources, IOM said that some 449 people are in nine emergency shelters in Abaco, with 346 survivors being temporarily housed in 17 shelters in Grand Bahama.

“Many are sheltering in clinics and therefore need to be relocated; thousands more are prevented from reaching the shelters due to flooding and blocked roads,” IOM said.

Highlighting the immense challenge ahead for affected Bahamians, the agency noted the need to rebuild destroyed infrastructure, “with increased resistance in the face of extreme weather”, as being key to boosting the resilience of the communities.

Treating chronically ill is only one of many priorities

Other immediate needs include treating people with chronic illnesses, such as those with diabetes and kidney failure, Dr Norton explained.

“We now know that the hospital in Freeport which is on Grand Bahama is severely flooded with sewage-contaminated water, and so therefore it needs to be temporarily replaced with a field hospital”, he said.

Amid reports that many other medical centres are flooded, international health teams are arriving in the Bahamas to provide clinical care and help survivor to secure food supplies, safe drinking water and sanitation.

“I can’t tell you that we’ve got to every single atoll and sand key, but certainly the major sections of each island have been reached”, said Dr. Norton. “We’ve certainly seen reports more and more on the health side, that they’re looking at shelter, food and trying to assess what populations are left where.”

Echoing that message, Dr. Esther de Gourville, representative of the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) in the Bahamas, insisted that staff would use their extensive experience in emergency preparedness to improve disaster relief operations.

“Clearly it is a desperate situation for some persons on Abaco,” she said.

Find out more about the UN ‘s international emergency response team, by listening to our flagship podcast, The Lid Is On

As Yemen relief operations face funding gap, timing of surge in violence ‘couldn’t be worse’

30 August 2019

The situation in Yemen is “very fragile”, the top United Nations humanitarian official there has warned, noting that as many as 13 people have been killed and at least 70 wounded over the past three days during clashes in two governorates.

OCHA/Giles Clark
Cratar neighbourhood in Aden, Yemen. (18 November 2018)

“Families are again trapped in their homes by fighting, unable to secure food and reach medical care,” said Lise Grande, Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, said on Thursday, referring to Aden and Abyan.

Moreover, some streets in Aden are empty and flights to and from the airport have been temporarily suspended.

“We mourn for the dead and wounded and plead with everyone who is fighting to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law,” she said, lamenting that “the timing couldn’t be worse.”

Ms. Grandi elaborated that the country’s humanitarian operation “is in deep trouble” because pledges made at an international conference this past February “haven’t materialized”.

“We’ve already been forced to close vaccination and health programmes and scale-back on protection services for the victims of sexual and gender-based violence”, she detailed.

“If donors don’t honour the promises they’ve made, 22 major programmes will close in coming weeks”.

It has long been said that Yemen is the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

And today, nearly 80 per cent of the total population of 24.1 million people, requires some form of humanitarian assistance and protection.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 10 million people are a step away from famine and seven million are malnourished.

The 2019 Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan (YHRP) requires $4.2 billion to assist more than 20 million Yemenis, including 10 million people who rely entirely on humanitarian assistance to meet their basic needs every month.

Currently the YHRP is 34 per cent funded.

At a High-Level Pledging Event for the Humanitarian Crisis in Yemen, convened by the UN Secretary-General in February, the UN and humanitarian partners were promised $2.6 billion to meet the urgent needs. To date, less than half that has been received.

Decades of progress ‘can be wiped out overnight,’ UN chief laments at climate session in Yokohama

29 August 2019

“Little undermines development like disaster,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres told attendees at a thematic session on Africa and climate change, on day two of the Tokyo international Conference on African Development (TICAD), now in its seventh year.

“Decades of sustainable development gains can be wiped out overnight,” he lamented in Yokohama, citing the deadly cyclone streak in Mozambique earlier this year, floods that plagued Japan just days ago, and the wildfires presently ripping through the Amazon.

UN Japan/Ichiro Mae
UN Secretary-General António Guterres addresses the media at the Seventh Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD), taking place in Yokohama, Japan. (29 August 2019)

With July recorded as the hottest month ever, “We are on track for 2015-2019 to be the five hottest years since there are records. At the same time, the World Meteorological Organization has also shown that we have now the largest concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere of human history,” the UN chief told reporters.

As far as bearing the brunt, “The poor and vulnerable are the first to suffer,” he said, noting Africa is on the frontline of suffering consequences, yet contributes minimally to global warming.

“Our overarching goal is to raise ambition and get the world on track to limit global temperature rise to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius”–UN Secretary-General

“Africa has the moral authority on this,” he urged, and holds the right to ask top CO2 emitters like China, the United States and India, according the UN Environment Programme’s latest numbers,  to scale back on their emissions and comply with the scientific community’s recommendations for achieving carbon neutrality in 2050.

“Our overarching goal is to raise ambition and get the world on track to limit global temperature rise to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius,” he said, citing the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which found this target is only manageable by way of “rapid and far-reaching transitions.”

Mr. Guterres said with respect to the ongoing Amazon fires, the UN has taken steps to prioritize its resolve.“We have been in contact with the countries to see whether, during the high-level session of the General Assembly, that would be a meeting devoted to the mobilization of support to the Amazon.”

On 23 September the UN chief will host a Climate Action Summit in New York, with proposals already put forward to protect the poor and vulnerable including boosts to disaster recovery and preparatory measures.

Limiting crises wrought by climate change requires we “not only respond more efficiently to disaster after it happens, but through advanced warning and preparation, we must work to prevent disaster from happening in the first place,” the Secretary-General said.

Millions in Idlib ‘counting on your support to make the violence stop’, UN relief chief tells Security Council

 29 August 2019

Despite an agreement signed nearly a year ago on a halt to further escalation in Syria’s war-battered Idlib, “the bombing and fighting go on in plain sight, day in and day out”, the UN humanitarian chief told the Security Council on Thursday.

©UNICEF/Kate Brooks
Traveling with his family via an unofficial border crossing from Syria to Lebanon, the nine-year-old boy pictured here was injured during an unidentified explosion; abrasions from the explosion are also visible on his face.

Noting that he has briefed “many times over the last few months”, Mark Lowcock, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, said that “three million people – two-thirds of them women and children – are counting on your support to make this violence stop”.

According to “conservative estimates” in the Secretary-General’s latest report, he revealed that “more than 500 civilians had been killed and many hundreds more injured” in northwest Syria since late April.

Most recently, 44 civilians were killed by airstrikes between 16 and 18 August, 15 others on Monday and 17 more just yesterday.

“Over the last three weeks, since the collapse of the conditional ceasefire on 5 August, dozens of communities have emptied out in northern Hamaand southern Idlib”, he stated.

“Satellite imagery shows that entire towns and villages have been razed to the ground,” he said, adding that many fled northwards closer to the Turkish border and those who stayed behind “are cowering in basements or in what’s left of their homes”.

And yet, despite the many challenges, “the humanitarian community is doing everything it can to respond to the needs” of the people in and around Idlib, Mr. Lowcock said, elaborating that some 15,000 aid workers continue to provide shelter materials, food assistance and health services, including for newly displaced people.

More than a million people who receive general food assistance every month are reached exclusively through a cross-border operation because “access from within the country is impeded,” the UN Humanitarian Coordinator stated.

Dire conditions drive people out of Rukban

Turning to Rukban, Mr. Lowcock said dire conditions and lack of assistance, coupled with the hope for durable solutions, have led many people to leave.

And per a UN agreement with the Syrian authorities, a mission is planned to help those who wish to leave find for shelters in Homs.

Satellite imagery shows that entire towns and villages have been razed to the ground – UN Humanitarian Coordinator

“All movement must be voluntary, safe, well-informed and dignified, with humanitarian access assured throughout”, assured Mr. Lowcock.

In Al Hol, “there are currently some 68,600 people in the camp”, living in extremely difficult conditions, he informed. “Most have been exposed to violence and trauma under ISIL”.

He mentioned that the United States and Turkey plan to coordinate a so-named “safe zone” in the country’s north-east, for which the UN is not a party, and emphasized that the welfare of civilians must be insured, including by guaranteeing “unimpeded and safe humanitarian access to civilians in need”.

“The UN and humanitarian agencies run a large relief operation all across Syria, reaching six million people”, including humanitarian assistance, he stated, however, with “significantly less” funding this year, he asked those who pledged at the Brussels conference in April “to take early action to implement them”.

Acknowledging that “we cannot turn back the clock on what has happened”, Mr. Lowcock underlined that “this Council and its members can take meaningful action now to protect civilians and ensure full respect for international humanitarian law.

“It is within your power to do that”, he concluded.

‘Alarming’ scale of violence

For his part, Geir Pedersen, UN Special Envoy for Syria, flagged that the scale of violence and instability in Syria is “extremely alarming”.

He painted a grim picture of rising civilian death tolls; millions displaced; untold tens of thousands detained or missing; large territories fragmented between different actors; and ISIL terrorists stepping up guerrilla attacks, saying “and not yet the launch of a real political process”.

“These dynamics can and must change”, he stressed as he highlighted five of the current dangers beginning with resumed hostilities in and around Idlib, in the country’s north-west, where three million civilian lives are at risk.

He next turned to Syria’s north-east, where tensions flared in July with troop concentrations on the Turkish side of the border.

Thirdly, he spoke about Israeli-Iranian tensions that are putting the country in the crosshairs by planning drone attacks from Syrian soil.

Turning to the country’s south-west, he warned of reports of detentions, demonstrations, disappearances and assassinations.

“There is no military solution for Syria”, Mr. Pedersen underscored. “Only a political process and ultimately a political solution can restore Syria’s sovereignty, protect the rights and future of all Syrians, and begin to address the deep divisions within Syrian society”.

There is no military solution for Syria – UN Special Envoy

Constitutional committee

Amid surging violence and lagging political progress, he spoke of a constitutional committee in Geneva, maintaining that “to be a meaningful door opener…that turns the page towards a new Syria” it should be “accompanied by measures that have real impact on the ground”, pointing to “real action on detainees, abductees and missing persons” as being “such a measure”.

According to the UN envoy, “international players have the responsibility to deepen their dialogue too” and support the UN “as we work directly with the Syrian parties.”

“If the Syrians are to overcome their mistrust and division, and move step-by-step along a path to heal Syrian society and restore Syria’s place in the international community, a common international support format for Geneva will be absolutely key”, he stressed.

In closing, he asked for Council’s support “in making this happen”.