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At a glance: Haiti

Storms batter the Caribbean, displacing thousands of children and their families

© UNICEF Haiti/HAI2008-0907/Vigneault
Haitian children temporarily relocated in a school in Port-au-Prince’s Tabarre district during Hurricane Gustav. Due to poor sanitation, some of them developed waterborne diseases.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, 5 September 2008 – Over 200 people are dead and nearly 600,000 urgently need help after a series of storms that have battered Haiti over the past three weeks, according to UN officials. And there may be more storms to come.

Tropical Storm Hanna left the city of Gonaives flooded and residents stranded on their rooftops. It was the third major storm to hit the Caribbean in less than 21 days. Prior to Hanna, Hurricane Gustav terrorized the region. According to the Cuban Government, Gustav was the strongest hurricane to hit Cuba in more than 50 years.

Thus far in Haiti, the World Food Programme and UNICEF have mobilized 7.5 metric tons of food and 60,000 litres of potable water ready to be transported by sea to the affected population. But according to UNICEF Haiti Communication Officer Louis-Etienne Vigneault, access to the region has been nearly impossible.

Haiti hit hardest

© UNICEF Haiti/HAI2008-0912/Vigneault
UNICEF’s Dr. Mireille Tribie assesses the physical condition of children relocated in the Lycee Jean-Marie Vincent in Port-au-Prince.

“Since last Tuesday, most of the roads in the country have been cut by floods,” said Mr. Vigneault. “So access has almost been impossible by road, and access by sea or by air was also impossible because of bad weather conditions.”

Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, is particularly susceptible to storms because of massive deforestation and poor infrastructure.

“The first thing that really hits the population – the women and the children – is access to water and shelter,” said UNICEF Director of Emergency Programmes Louis-Georges Arsenault. “Usually, a huge hurricane will destroy very basic poor-people’s shelter.”

Food crisis deepens

© UNICEF Haiti/HAI2008-0946/Vigneault
Hurricane Gustav caused flash floods in parts of Haiti’s capital. In the Bigaratte district, about 80 houses were damaged when the Rivière Grise burst.

The storms also have flooded many of Haiti’s farms, compounding a food crisis that caused major riots throughout the country only five months ago.

“The country is suffering a lot from the food crisis and soaring food prices,” said Mr. Vigneault. “That has impoverished the population even more and made it even more vulnerable.”

Large quantities of humanitarian supplies were pre-positioned prior to hurricane season in the Caribbean, but the number of storms that have developed this year was unexpected. As another hurricane – Ike – makes its way across the Atlantic Ocean towards the Caribbean, aid workers worry that the threat is not over.




4 September 2008:
UNICEF Director of the Office of Emergency Programmes Louis-Georges Arsenault talks about preparing for and responding to natural disasters in the Caribbean.
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4 September 2008:
UNICEF Haiti Communication Officer Louis-Etienne Vigneault discusses the consequences of three major storms crossing over Haiti during the past three weeks.
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