Tropical Storm Irma hit the gulf of Florida on Sunday, and although it was downgraded when it hit the coast, it stands as the most powerful storm to ever be recorded in the Atlantic. The damage to the Caribbean islands, which include Barbuda, Anguilla, the Virgin Islands, and Antigua, is extensive. At least 20,000 displaced and affected children and citizens have been counted, with fears that the picture painted of the damage is not yet up to scale, and 33 deaths have been recorded in the islands. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is mobilizing to help all the damage — and they need money.
UNICEF aims to provide relief and assistance to children and mothers in developing countries. They’re most widely known in the United States for their “Trick or Treat for UNICEF” fundraising program, that Halloween event in which kids carry orange boxes and collect donations, but has been helping communities since 1946 when it was formed to help children in post-war Europe. Currently, they assist children in more than 190 countries, setting up programs that help provide assistance on everything from general infrastructure to healthcare. Concerns about United Nations’ programs and their ability to help or harm international citizens do arise, most notably in Haiti, and illustrate that the mission to help is far more complicated than throwing millions of dollars in a fund, or in an orange box.
Regardless, UNICEF does good work. And the Caribbean will need these funds desperately. Widespread reports of power and electricity outages, food and water shortages, and massive structural damage mean that recovery from Irma will be protracted and difficult. Aside from basic access to clean water, there’s also a need for psychosocial support for the children of the islands, which UNICEF has pledged to provide with their “Return to Happiness” program. While the focus now is on basic access to goods needed for survival, other concerns, such as the disruption of children’s educational life, are also prevalent.
When island communities are hit by tropical storms, the damage is also economic. The Caribbean islands rely heavily, almost exclusively, on ecotourism, and are, for that reason, disrupted more drastically by natural disasters. In 2004, after Hurricane Ivan swept through the area, the Cayman Islands alone lost nearly 200 percent of its GDP in a single year, but unlike the Cayman’s other counterparts, it has a more diversified economy and thus a greater ability to deal with natural disasters. The islands struck by Irma aren’t as fortunate, which is why UNICEF will work to help strengthen the communities for future events.
And the question, sadly, is not whether more storms are coming, but rather how we will answer them. Families who already lost their homes to Irma also fear Hurricane Jose, which is cooking up 150 mph winds and may hit the same islands that are still reeling from Irma. Right now, they’ll need whatever help is available.