Agencies respond to Haiti tropical storm devastation

By staff writers
September 6, 2008

The United Nations is warning that more than half a million people are in need of emergency assistance after storms Fay, Gustav and Hanna battered the island of Haiti.

Over 500 people are now known to have been killed in floods and landslides in Haiti caused by tropical storm Hanna. Hundreds of bodies were discovered when floodwaters receded in the northern town of Gonaives.

The first aid ships have now arrived in the country in an attempt to deal with the growing humanitarian crisis, short and longer term.

Prospery Raymond, country representative of the UK-based international development agency Christian Aid commented yesterday: "The hospitals in Gonaives and Les Cayes were completely flooded. The scene is similar to September 2004 when Tropical Storm Jeanne killed well over 2,000 people."

Raymod continued: "The whole of the Artibonite valley has been flooded, which is where 80 per cent of Haitian rice is grown. Rice crops were destroyed near the point of harvesting, which can only put the price of this staple food even further out of the reach of many families."

"I am very worried that we will see rioting in various parts of the country over the next few weeks as people grow frustrated with the speed of the government response."

Christian Aid has already started distributing water purification kits and emergency medical supplies to help the injured. If Tropical Storm Ike does hit the island early next week the scale of the disaster will be even higher. Already many bridges have collapsed and roads destroyed, making it difficult to reach the most vulnerable.

Not only have thousands of people lost their homes, but many families have also lost livestock – cows and goats. Selling the milk from these animals is often vital to a family’s survival, so Christian Aid will also be helping people to restock.

Because Tropical Storm Hanna hit the island without warning, most people did not have time to evacuate to shelters. Instead, hundreds of people spent days on their rooftops enduring torrential rain, while waiting for help to arrive. The area around the northern city of Gonaives is particularly vulnerable because it is very low-lying.

Mudslides are also a danger in a country where 98 per cent of the forest cover has been destroyed. Cutting down trees to make charcoal to sell for fuel is the last resort for many rural Haitians who have no other income between harvests.

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