As Secretary-General Kofi Annan offered his condolences today to the families of the victims of Hurricane Ivan, which is wreaking a devastating toll across the Caribbean region, United Nations humanitarian agencies are stepping up their efforts to help the people left homeless and to prepare those still in the path of the storm.
Mr. Annan was "deeply saddened by the loss of life, injuries and destruction" caused by the hurricane, according to a statement issued by his spokesman in New York, and called on the international community to donate whatever resources are necessary to help the relief effort.
Dozens of people across the Caribbean are reported to have been killed by Ivan, the third major hurricane to strike the region in a month and one of the most severe in the past decade.
In a bulletin issued yesterday, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) said it could be the most damaging natural disaster to strike the Caribbean region since Hurricane Gilbert in 1988. It has called for almost $1.5 million in donations to handle the immediate problems in Grenada and Jamaica.
Grenada remains the worst affected nation, with as much as 90 per cent of homes damaged or destroyed, and several dozen dead, but people were also killed or left homeless in Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, St. Lucia, the Cayman Islands and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
The storm is currently heading west and northwest across the Caribbean, with Cuba, the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico and the southeastern United States all still considered at risk.
In Grenada, a team of officials from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is arranging relief supplies for an estimated 5,000 to 8,000 people living in official or ad-hoc shelters. About 60,000 people are thought to be homeless.
UNICEF has flown 5,000 health kits and 5,000 doses of anti-diarrhoea oral rehydration packets to the island nation, where shortages of food and water have been reported and sanitation conditions are poor.
The agency has also sent staff to Grenada, including a doctor and a psycho-social expert, to deal with the anticipated rise in the number of children suffering from trauma because of the storm.
An initial assessment by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has also found that Grenada's major hospital has lost its roof and most of its equipment as a result of Hurricane Ivan, which struck the country late last Tuesday.
In Jamaica, which was struck on Friday and Saturday with the southern coast bearing the brunt, about 12,000 people are living in 285 emergency shelters. Some villages have been washed away or nearly entirely destroyed. Jamaican authorities have issued an urgent appeal for tents, lanterns, blankets, generators and heavy-duty removal equipment, as well as for food and water.
OCHA has also freed up cash grants of $100,000 each to Grenada, Jamaica and Cuba to allow officials there to respond rapidly to problems as they become apparent.
In Haiti, which avoided the worst of the storm, the UN peacekeeping mission, known by its French acronym MINUSTAH, is helping the interim Government assess the amount of flood damage.
UN spokesman Fred Eckhard said the world body would continue to monitor the situation as Hurricane Ivan progresses, especially in Cuba and the Cayman Islands.