Amid last year’s destruction, Haiti braces for another hurricane season
GONAÏVES, Haiti, 16 March 2009 – As Haiti braces for another hurricane season, UNICEF Representative in Haiti Annamaria Laurini recently surveyed Gonaïves, the country’s third largest city, to evaluate its emergency preparedness. She was accompanied on the visit by UNICEF Emergency Operations Chief Lucia Elmi.
Gonaïves’s population of 300,000 had not yet fully recovered from the destruction of 2004’s Hurricane Jeanne when the city was hit by a series of devastating storms last year. Despite the recovery efforts of UNICEF and its partners – a third of the city has been repaired – grave concerns remain about the possibility of another catastrophic hurricane season in 2009.
Survey of storm damage
Driving on a dirt road detour to reach Gonaïves, Ms. Laurini pointed out the lake that flooded Gonaives in 2008. “It flooded the entire region, cut off the road, destroyed the bridge. There was no access to Gonaïves for two months.”
A tour of the town’s main street revealed even more damage. Dried walls of mud seemed to engulf the battered buildings and vehicles, while the few government-provided tractors kept working around the clock to clear mounds of debris lining the streets.
Some significant improvements have been made, such as the effort to clear the flood evacuation gate in the town’s central canal. But even this victory is precarious, as recent downpours – unusual for this time of year – have led to above-normal water levels, raising the risk of flooding once the April rainy season starts.
Concentrating limited resources
At an informal meeting of UNICEF and its partners in Gonaïves, several key priorities were laid out – including the need for another site to dispose of the remaining tonnes of dried mud that accumulated after the 2008 storms. Areas of progress were also noted, such as the successful rehabilitation of roughly half of the community’s wells and the installation of drinking-water kiosks.
But participants agreed that many huge tasks still lay ahead. They expressed concern that critical emergency equipment and support would be more difficult to procure this year due to the current global economic crisis.
“We don’t have the luxury to spread our resources to a multitude of areas,” said Ms. Laurini. “We must concentrate on the one or two priorities we face right now, and emergency preparedness is unquestionably our biggest concern. And there, too, we don’t have sufficient funding at this late stage to meet the task before us.”