Haiti: exacerbation of humanitarian crisis following Hurricane Sandy
09 November 2012

Flooding on the Fonds-Parisien motorway, western Haiti (JRS)
The destruction of transport infrastructure may hinder the ability for humanitarian workers to assist those in the worst affected areas of the country.

Bogotá, 9 November 2012The social impact of natural disasters in Haiti accumulate in a spiral of growing environmental vulnerability and worsening humanitarian crisis in the country.

Haitians, still recovering from the effects of tropical storm Isaac last August, have recently fallen victim to yet another disaster at the end of October, leaving 52 dead, 15 disappeared and the homes of nearly 20,000 damaged or destroyed.

There has been considerable damage to the infrastructure of the country, including bridges and major roads, as well as losses recorded in the agricultural sector are believed to have reached 140 million US dollars.

The government and humanitarian organisations in Haiti have raised the alarm regarding possible threats facing the population, including malnutrition, famine and cholera epidemic. The threat of widespread crisis now looms large over the country.

Food insecurity could lead to famine; poor weather and inadequate sanitation could lead to an intensification of the cholera epidemic; and the destruction of transport infrastructure may hinder the ability for humanitarian workers to assist those in the worst affected areas of the country.

Jesuit call for intervention. Within this volatile context, the approximate 400,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) struggling to survive in the camps of Port au Prince and the surrounding areas are the most poor and vulnerable among those affected. In a report about the impact of Hurricane Sandy in the IDP camps, the Jesuits in Haiti highlighted that the tents had been destroyed by the winds and flooding.

For instance, there are a great number of pregnant women, children and older persons in Automeca camp, situated on the outskirts of the capital. They are living up to their waists in water, in severe need of humanitarian assistance, and at serious risk of contracting cholera. The Jesuits have called for urgent intervention to help these people who have otherwise been left to their own devices.

International community. The Jesuits are not alone in calling for immediate humanitarian intervention as the Haitian government has called on the international community to give more support amidst the crisis. The six million US dollars in aid have already been spent on food distribution and humanitarian kits, and according to the Haitian authorities, more is needed. The agriculture sector alone needs more than 254 million US dollars before production can be restored following damage as a result of Sandy and Isaac.

According to the state agency responsible for national coordination on food security (CNSA), there is a real threat of famine breaking out in Haiti, particularly in areas considered as black spots, such as the Sud-Est and Nord-Est regions and some districts in Ouest, Centre, Nord-Ouest and Nippes regions.

CNSA reported that while the major food producing regions survived the last drought, which along with tropical storm Issac destroyed 60 percent of the harvest, they have been ravaged by Hurricane Sandy.

This situation of food insecurity coincides with recent demonstrations over the past few months, in which Haitians in many parts of the country have been protesting against rises in the cost of living, particularly, the cost of basic necessities.

Concern of humanitarian organisations. International organisations in Haiti have repeatedly supported the government call for emergency assistance from the international community.

"These stocks are running dangerously low … After tropical storm Isaac in August, these stocks have not been replenished. What we're doing is scraping the bottom", said George Ngwa, spokesman for OCHA, the UN humanitarian coordinating body in Haiti.

Sud is the vulnerable region, according to OCHA official, Johan Peleman, because "with the south being hit now, we are going to face in the next couple of months very serious problems of malnutrition and food insecurity".

Red Cross International has begun raising funds for the countries most affected by the hurricane in the Caribbean, including Haiti, Cuba and Jamaica.

Despite such initiatives to generate support for affected communities, the Red Cross in Haiti predicts further escalation of instability.

"Isaac and Sandy combined have deteriorated an already precarious situation in both health and agriculture and unfortunately this will have long-term humanitarian consequences", one official said.





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James Stapleton
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