With the rainy season and its flood risks due in April and hurricanes shortly after, Haiti urgently needs operational meteorological services to forestall further disasters after last month’s devastating earthquake, the United Nations weather agency reported today.
“In order to prevent potential disasters related to the natural hazards, which the country is prone to, the capacity of Haiti to produce and disseminate weather information and warnings needs to be developed without delay,” the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said, noting that the national weather office in Port-au-Prince, the capital, was severely cracked by the quake and is no longer safe.
“Weather forecasts and early warnings from the Haiti National Meteorological Centre are essential for national authorities, humanitarian and development agencies and the people for emergency contingency planning and recovery,” it added.
WMO is now working to ensure that the national meteorological service is equipped with basic capacities and expertise for translation and dissemination of information currently being provided by neighbouring regions for risk managers, humanitarian aid bodies, decision-makers and the general public during the upcoming rainy and hurricane seasons, which begin in early April and early June respectively.
Restoration of basic operational meteorological services within the next six to 12 months is a key objective in the UN revised flash appeal, to be launched later this month, and various bilateral support programmes. At an estimated cost of $1 million the project includes basic capacities such as an operational office space, computers and printer, communication systems, restoration of automated weather stations, back up generators, and hands-on training of staff.
Even before the 12 January quake, which killed up to 200,000 people, injured many others and left 2 million in need of aid, Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, faced pressing needs for disaster risk reduction and early warning capabilities, with WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud visiting in November to assess investment requirements.
More than 90 per cent of disasters in the country are linked to frequently occurring climate-related hazards, such as tropical cyclones, storm surges, flash floods, drought, thunderstorms or lightning, landslides or mudslides, which have been further exacerbated by massive deforestation and environmental changes.
Haiti annually experiences two rainy seasons, from April to June and from October to November, as well as a hurricane season from early June until the end of November. It suffered significant losses in 2008 from four hurricanes, Fay, Gustav, Hanna, and Ike, that occurred in quick succession. In 2004 tropical storm Jeanne’s heavy rains caused massive flooding and landslides.