The United Nations peacekeeping mission in Haiti is preparing to help up to half a million people in the impoverished Caribbean nation who could potentially be affected by Hurricane Tomas.
Over the last 24 hours, the mission, known as MINUSTAH, along with the Haitian Government and relief partners, have joined forces to initiate contingency plans, mobilize stocks and identify gaps as the hurricane approaches, on top of managing the continuing response to the cholera epidemic and the devastating January earthquake.
“This storm could not have come at a more difficult time,” said Nigel Fisher, UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Haiti. “Although we have made some extensive preparations and prepositioned stocks across the country, some crucial supplies have been badly depleted by ongoing needs, particularly the response to the ongoing cholera epidemic.”
As of last week, the Haitian health ministry has confirmed 4,649 hospitalizations and 305 deaths due to cholera, with cases having been confirmed in three of the country’s 10 departments.
Mr. Fisher said that the UN is scaling up distributions in camps and sending truckloads of supplies down to Haiti’s southern coast, “but we must now race to mobilize everything else we need.”
Priority needs include 150,000 tarpaulins, 90,000 cases of soap and hygiene kits, 20,000 sachets of oral rehydration salts to treat cholera and 200 field tents, as well as logistics support.
Mr. Fisher underlined the need for as many supplies as possible to be in place as possible before Hurricane Tomas hits. “With our Haitian counterparts, we are appealing to donors, to organizations in the region and to humanitarian partners to help us get what we need in time.”
Preparations for the hurricane’s arrival began over the weekend, with tarpaulins being moved from Panama and all-terrain trucks with enough fuel to be self-sufficient for 7 days in anticipation of roads being cut off were dispatched to key hubs along the southern coastline.
There is a shortage of some stocks, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), as a result of the cholera epidemic and shelter needs.
In the capital, Port-au-Prince, where people in camps are very vulnerable to both wind and rain, all rope and tarpaulin stocks have been mobilized to help residents tie down their property, while information campaigns have been scaled up to raise awareness of the need to prepare for the hurricane.
“This storm is approaching at a time when aid agencies in Haiti are already stretched to the limit,” Mr. Fisher stressed.
“As well as preparing for a large-scale hurricane response, we must continue to do all we can to help people across the country protect themselves against cholera – an of course to continue responding to the ongoing needs of earthquake survivors,” he said, adding that the humanitarian challenges involved in the three simultaneous operations – responding to the earthquake, cholera outbreak and impending hurricane – are among the worst he has seen in his entire career.