Churches back relief effort in Haiti and other storm-hit areas

By staff writers
September 10, 2008

Christian denominations working through the ecumenical Action of Churches Together and the Catholic network Caritas are contributing short- and long-term aid to those hit by hurricanes and tropical storms recently.

The British agency CAFOD (Catholic Fund for Overseas Development) has pledged an immediate donation of £50,000 to help some of the hundreds of thousands of people in Haiti who have faced four storms in less than three weeks.

Tropical Storm Fay was quickly followed by Hurricanes Gustav, Hanna and Ike which swept across the country leaving more than 500 dead and many more displaced.

A total of 600,000 people are estimated to have been affected and nearly 70,000 are now living in temporary shelters as torrential rains continue to lash the country.

It is estimated that around 500 people are trapped in the Bishop of Gonaives' house in the department of Artibonite, in northern and central Haiti.

Speaking from his home, Bishop Yves Marie Péan said: "I am suffering with these victims while trying my best to provide them with assistance during these times of bad weather which has affected all of the Artibonite region.

He added: "For the present moment we have an urgent need for drinking water, food, clothes, beds, batteries, blankets, towels, chlorine, mosquito nets, medicines, et cetera. Many more people may die if we can't get them the immediate support they require."

Much of Haiti's most fertile agricultural land is in the low-lying Artibonite region which traditionally produces most of Haiti's rice crop. Acute food shortages and price rises provoked hunger riots across Haiti in April 2008.

Clare Dixon, CAFOD's Head of Latin America and the Caribbean, commented: "While much of the media attention is focussed on Gonaives, many more remote areas of the country are also badly affected and hundreds of thousands of people need help."

Ms Dixon added: "Access to affected areas is difficult because of the mountainous terrain and poor roads and communications. The logistical challenges in getting relief supplies through to people are enormous. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Haitian people at this difficult time."

CAFOD, which is a recognised agency of the Catholic Bishops in England and Wales, is working in partnership with Caritas Haiti and Caritas USA (CRS) to provide assistance to people affected by the storms. It has worked in the country since 1970.

Haiti remains the poorest country in the western hemisphere with unemployment at 70%. It faces increasing food insecurity and has been unable to rebuild its agricultural capacity which was severely damaged by tropical storms in late 2007.

The Caribbean hurricane season is around half-way through and more devastating storms are predicted.

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