Hurricane-ravaged Haiti set back in fight against poverty, warns top UN official

23 October 2008

The trail of devastation from this year’s hurricane season has dealt a severe blow to efforts to combat poverty in Haiti, the top United Nations humanitarian official said as he landed in the storm-stricken country today.

The UN Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes began a two-day visit to assess the response to the four successive storms – Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike – which battered the impoverished Caribbean nation between mid-August and mid-September, leaving at least 790 people dead, hundreds injured and an estimated 1 million people affected around the country.

Mr. Holmes will also be appealing for more and faster assistance as less than $25 million has been committed of the $106 million which aid agencies have requested to provide humanitarian and early recovery assistance to survivors of the storms over the next six months.

“Even before this latest series of hurricanes and tropical storms, Haiti was particularly vulnerable to extreme weather,” said Mr. Holmes, who also serves as Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs.

“Now people desperately need not only immediate humanitarian relief but also major recovery assistance to help them get back on their feet again. In addition, we need to take a serious, fresh look at the country's development needs.”

During his trip, Mr. Holmes is slated to hold talks with Haitian leaders, including President Rene Préval and Prime Minister Michele Pierre-Louis to discuss natural disaster preparedness. He will also meet representatives of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), UN agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to review progress in addressing the overall humanitarian situation in the country.

Tomorrow Mr. Holmes plans a stop at Gonaïves, the city hardest-hit by the recent storms, where thousands are still living on the roofs of their destroyed homes or in makeshift shelters.

His visit comes less than a day after World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick toured Haiti’s disaster areas and two weeks after Mr. Zoellick announced a $25 million emergency grant stressing the Bank’s strong commitment to help the people of the island nation out of this humanitarian crisis.

“Haiti must be given a chance and donors therefore need to help the country move forward with inclusive development so that local people can take the lead in improving their lives,” Mr. Zoellick said.

Meanwhile, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) reported that it has provided 5,000 tonnes of food to more than 500,000 victims of the deadly storms across Haiti, and in Gonaïves alone it has distributed rations of rice, beans, cooking oil and corn soya blend to some 266,000 people.

WFP has also resumed its food distribution programme to schools in Haiti following the start of the school year. The programme is targeting 500,000 school children – 400,000 in its normal school feeding programme and 100,000 in its hurricane emergency response programme – as well as providing food in Gonaïves to volunteers cleaning out 100 schools so that children can return to class as soon as possible.

In a related development, UN agencies are seeking some $30 million to help survivors of the four tropical storms that also swept through Cuba, where almost 3 million people were forced to evacuate their homes, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) announced in a press release issued today.

The funding is intended to assist UN agencies and their partners to complete the emergency phase of the humanitarian response and support early recovery efforts, with $13.8 million going to an immediate response phase and $16.2 million to early recovery.

Although around 28 per cent of the population was evacuated, the Government’s preparedness plan meant that many people found shelter in homes of friends and relatives, and only 500,000 needed temporary shelter.

OCHA reported that more than 444,000 houses, along with stored food, agricultural tools and storage facilities were destroyed, and nearly 113,000 hectares of crops were damaged.

The financial losses have been estimated at $5 billion or about 8 percent of Cuba’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), including significant damage to the electricity distribution system, schools and health-care facilities.

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Top UN humanitarian official to visit hurricane-battered Haiti

United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes will visit Haiti later this week to assess the response to a series of storms which ravaged the impoverished Caribbean nation recently, it was announced today.