Friday, October 7, 2016

Storm exacts heartbreaking toll in Haiti

Smashed buildings, shattered infrastructure, ruined crops, dead livestock and the threat that cholera could rage out of control: Haiti is facing a daunting humanitarian crisis as the estimated death toll from Hurricane Matthew rises beyond 800.
Aerial images of the destruction wreaked by the worst hurricane to hit Haiti in half a century — and the strongest Caribbean storm in a decade — showed the extent of the devastation to what was already one of the poorest countries on the planet.
“What I saw today was heartbreaking,” said Mourad Wahba, the UN’s resident humanitarian co-ordinator, after a flight over some of the affected areas on Thursday. “I just hope we have the means to help the people — they will need everything into the next six months.”
Images of the southwestern town of Jérémie showed buildings like open shoeboxes, their roofs ripped off. Residents were destitute and hungry.
“Devastation is everywhere,” AP quoted Pilus Enor, mayor of the town of Camp Perrin, as saying. “Every house has lost its roof. All the plantations have been destroyed. This is the first time we see something like this.”
Downed bridges, power outages and damaged communications infrastructure made it hard to piece together a full picture. But Reuters put the fast-rising death toll at 842 as official reports from hard-to-access communities trickled in.
Parts of the south-west of the country that were among the worst hit had just started recovering from a serious drought. “There were already food security issues,” said Jake Johnston, a research associate at the Center for Economic Policy Research. “This hurricane is magnifying problems that existed before.”
Charcoal production has become a big business in Haiti’s economy, and the cutting down of trees to feed it has left swaths of the country vulnerable to extreme weather events.
But Haiti’s biggest problem was that it had not finished rebuilding from the 2010 earthquake that killed more than 200,000 and left some 55,000 still living in tents. That earthquake inflicted around $8bn in damage — equivalent to 120 per cent of GDP, according to the World Bank.
Mark Schuller, an associate professor at Northern Illinois University, said international aid organisations had tended to display a “we foreigners know best … get out of the way mentality” in the wake of that catastrophe.
Maarten Boute, chairman of Digicel, Haiti’s main cell phone provider, urged aid efforts to avoid falling into the same trap. “How to help Haiti: source relief aid locally, buy our exports abroad, visit our beaches, invest in Haiti and its people,” he tweeted.
Access to clean water was a key priority as Haiti was struggling to control a spike in cholera cases even before Matthew struck. The disease has killed about 10,000 people since 2010, when it was introduced into the country's biggest river from a United Nations base where Nepalese peacekeepers were deployed.
“We’re very worried about the country’s future in terms of food security. The loss of agriculture is severe,” said Hervil Cherubin, country director in Haiti for Heifer International, a US non-profit working with 6,500 farming families in the southern part of the country.
“Most of the crops are gone. Many of the farm fields are like landfills. They’re full of trash, seawater, gravel and other debris. This will make it difficult for people to start producing soon. I believe it will take at least two years for people to get their farmers producing like they used to.”
Haiti has cancelled scheduled presidential elections due to have been held on Sunday and a new date has yet to be set. The vote is a re-run of an election held in October last year which yielded disputed results and let to serious protests.
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