Thousands have died, an unknown number are injured and an estimated 300,000 are homeless following the earthquake that struck Port-au-Prince and other densely populated areas of Haiti on 12 January, affecting a total of more than 3 million people.
Four days on, UNICEF and its partners are intensifying emergency supply operations to protect the health of children at risk.
Besides supplies that were already in the country, aid is coming from UNICEF's pre-positioned regional stocks in Panama, with additional shipments dispatched from the agency's central warehouse in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Focus on water and sanitation
The effort is critical in Haiti, where almost half the population is under 18 years of age. Because children are particularly susceptible to diarrhoeal diseases, they urgently need access to safe water and proper sanitation in the immediate aftermath of disasters such as this.
"Our major focus, in terms of supply, is water and sanitation," said UNICEF Senior Emergency Health Advisor Dr. Robin Nandy.
Due to the lack of sanitation in quake-stricken communities, added Dr. Nandy, "there's a huge risk of communicable diseases such as diarrhoea and measles. And this could cause a large amount of illness, as well as deaths, among women and children in particular."
Supplies and experts arrive
As part of the effort to help avert a second wave of deaths in the earthquake zone, a DHL cargo plane carrying UNICEF water and sanitation supplies landed early this morning in Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital. It was the second such shipment to arrive there in 24 hours.
Water tanks and water-purification tablets were offloaded from the plane for distribution in concert with UNICEF's partners on the ground. The air shipment also contained oral rehydration salts, which can save children's lives by combating the effects of diarrhoeal dehydration. Two water-and-sanitation experts were on the flight as well.
Meanwhile, 5,000 litres of drinking water have reached residents of the coastal city of Jacmel, along with 2,500 kitchen kits for displaced families. The supplies were dispensed in coordination with the World Food Programme.
And beginning tomorrow, UNICEF and its partners will distribute 26 water bladders in badly affected areas. Haiti's main water companies are providing tanker trucks to fill the bladders, which can hold between 5,000 and 10,000 litres each.
More aid en route
Two more planes loaded with UNICEF aid for Haiti are expected to land this weekend in Santo Domingo, the capital of the neighbouring Dominican Republic. The planes will carry essential medicines and shelter materials, among other needed items.
Warehouse Supervisor Christian Dehoux is being deployed on one of those flights, a British Airways plane bringing 40 metric tonnes of emergency relief from UNICEF's Supply Division in Copenhagen.
"We'll have some emergency kits, first-aid kits, a lot of tarpaulins for building shelters," he said as cargo was assembled for the flight.
A history of hardship
Despite all of this accelerating activity, relief operations have only just begun in Haiti. That much, at least, is clear amidst the unimaginable death, injuries and damage to infrastructure in the Caribbean nation – which already faced extreme poverty and a serious humanitarian crisis before the earthquake hit.
To overcome the massive challenges ahead, UNICEF yesterday issued a call for $120 million to fund its Haiti crisis response over the next six months. The request to international donors was part of a wider UN appeal for $562 million.
Life-saving supplies and equipment are already arriving to help ease the suffering of a people whose history is already too full of hardship. Getting those supplies to the children and families who desperately need them is UNICEF's highest priority.