The United Nations humanitarian wing expressed deep concern today over the crisis engulfing the storm-stricken Caribbean as the region’s countries endure the fourth hurricane in less than a month.
Hurricane Ike, the latest of the deadly storms, has killed over 40 people in Cabaret, a village near Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti, adding to the 500 deaths in the northern port city of Gonaïves as a result of Hurricane Hanna last week.
“The UN is already distributing food and potable water [in the wake of Hanna],” said Elizabeth Byrs, a spokesperson for the Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
In Haiti, where some 800,000 have been affected by the flooding and lethal mudslides, UN agencies are mobilizing their relief efforts by providing emergency food assistance, water, purification tablets, blankets and other supplies.
“The World Food Programme (WFP) has distributed over 170 tons, 60,000 litres in bottle of potable water, 80,000 litres of potable water, hygiene kits and plastic sheeting. But we are very worried because some parts of the city are completely flooded,” Ms. Byrs said in an interview with UN Radio.
She also reported that a humanitarian crisis is emerging in the city of Camak, where many Haitians have taken refuge as floods inundated almost 85 per cent of nearby Gonaïves.
“We have a logistical nightmare because of the destruction of the roads. The two major roads to Gonaïves are blocked by fallen trees and debris, and a bridge collapsed on the only road which was accessible to light trucks,” added Ms. Byrs.
The head of the UN mission to Haiti, known as MINUSTAH, visited Gonaïves at the weekend, noting that the city’s residents were paralyzed for 48 hours because of the scale of the disaster.
“I came here to express my sympathy, my solidarity, solidarity of MINUSTAH and the UN system towards the people of Gonaïves,” said Hédi Annabi.
Mr. Annabi announced that an appeal for international assistance had been launched and promised that upon his return to Port-au-Prince he and his staff will do everything possible to expedite relief and the distribution of food aid.
The UN has also offered humanitarian assistance to Cuba, where OCHA is preparing an emergency cash grant as well as an application to the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF). The country is currently being battered by Hurricane Ike, but hundreds of people have already been evacuated as a result of Hurricane Gustav, which caused significant damage to over 140,000 homes, schools and hospitals at the end of last month.
Ms. Byrs said OCHA is waiting on the assessment of Ike’s impact on Cuba. “You can imagine the desolation and the damage to this country. There is [already] no electricity. There is no communication.”