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UN agencies step up help to countries hardest hit by Hurricane Ivan

UN agencies step up help to countries hardest hit by Hurricane Ivan

Island of Grenada hit by Hurricane Ivan
United Nations agencies are increasing their assistance to the Caribbean countries worst affected by Hurricane Ivan, which has killed dozens of people and left thousands homeless as it crosses the region.

Three members of a UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team have arrived in Grenada, the most devastated country, to help national authorities organize their response, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) said in a statement. More staff are expected to arrive later today.

A preliminary assessment by the UNDAC team indicates that 90 per cent of Grenada's population of about 90,000 people have been affected, either from losing their home or their livelihood as a result of the storm's destructive powers.

Thousands of people are homeless or living in temporary shelters, while hospitals are damaged, telephone lines are down and power supplies have been interrupted. But water supply services are gradually returning and cellular phones are working in some areas.

In Jamaica, where there is a shortage of potable water and electricity, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is sending more disaster-response staff to help run 24-hour centres that will coordinate the work of Jamaican authorities and aid agencies. One centre has been set up at Kingston airport and another will be established at the international airport at Montego Bay.

In Cuba, the most recent country to bear the brunt of Hurricane Ivan, some 1.3 million people were evacuated from their homes in anticipation of the arrival of the tropical storm.

The head of the Geneva-based UN body that focuses on disaster reduction praised Cuba's hurricane risk management as a model for other developing countries.

Salvano Briceno, Director of the International Secretariat for Disaster Reduction (ISDR), said Cubans are constantly educated in their schools, universities and workplaces about how to prepare for hurricanes and how to cope if they strike.

Television and radio stations are used to send information to the public and all institutions are mobilized 48 hours in advance of the expected arrival of a serious storm.

Mr. Briceno said there is also strong political will in Cuba to minimize the impact of hurricanes on the local population - something that is missing in some other nations.

"Leaders of countries around the world have at their disposal the knowledge needed to reduce risk and vulnerability to hazards. Even poor countries are not entirely without options to mitigate or prevent the consequences of hazards," he said.

Hurricane Ivan is now heading north across the Gulf of Mexico, with the southern United States and parts of eastern Mexico next at risk.

The most senior UN official for the world's small islands said today he was shocked at the trail of destruction and misery which Hurricane Ivan has already caused.

Anwarul K. Chowdhury, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, said "it shows again the extreme vulnerability of small island States and the urgent and immediate need for the international community to come to their assistance now and in the future."

More than 20 of the 50-odd small island developing States around the world have been severely affected by hurricanes, typhoons or major floods over the past two years - including some more than once during this period.

In January this year, the infrastructure on the Pacific island of Niue was destroyed by Cyclone Heta and several other islands and atolls suffered severe damage.

Strategies for preparing for natural disasters such as Hurricane Ivan and for mitigating their impact will be discussed next January in Mauritius at the International Meeting for the 10-Year Review of the Barbados Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of the Small Island Developing States. Negotiations for that meeting will take place next month at UN Headquarters in New York.