While calling on the international community to provide urgently needed aid, various programmes and agencies of the United Nations system in Haiti are busily gearing up for the expected landfall of Hurricane Tomas on Haitian shores sometime today or this weekend.
According to reports, meteorological experts have classified Tomas a Category 1 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is stressing that even with existing pre-positioned humanitarian supplies, the potential magnitude of the hurricane’s impact urgently called for additional emergency supplies and equipment.
Tarpaulins and tents in stock only cover 60 per cent of the estimated 500,000 people who could be affected by Tomas. Some minor-scale relocations have taken place – on Thursday, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) moved more than 2,000 people from the exposed Corail camp in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, to a nearby disused hospital. A further 4,000 internally displaced persons stayed at the camp to protect their few possessions.
Peacekeepers from the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) have also assisted local authorities in the country’s south with the transportation of people to provisional shelters; they are also assisting the Haitian Government and relief partners with contingency plans – on top of helping with the ongoing response to the devastating January earthquake.
Of particular concern, according to OCHA and others, is the impact of the hurricane on Haiti’s recent cholera epidemic. The humanitarian agency says the inadequate sanitary conditions in many parts of the country combined with a huge amount of rain or flooding generated by the hurricane could aggravate the outbreak.
The UN World Health Organization (WHO) says there are 6,742 cholera cases – including 442 deaths – in Haiti, with confirmed cases reported in the departments of Artibonite, Centre, Nord, Nord-Ouest, and Ouest. WHO has sent to Port-au-Prince emergency health kits for treating up to 10,000 people suffering from water-borne diseases for three months. Other emergency kits, with the capacity to treat between 10,000 to 20,000 people for three months, were sent to other areas.
The IOM is continuing its efforts to ensure that whatever early gains were made in containing the cholera outbreak were not reversed by Tomas, with a focus on ensuring that displaced people in camps are provided with hygiene messages as well as strengthening monitoring and case response mechanisms.
The UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, along with its partners and community mobilizers, has also been sharing health- and sanitation-related information and distributing oral rehydration salts and water purification tablets.
Based on its previous experience with Haiti’s storms in 2008, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) has had preparative measures in place in the country for some time now. Its essential staff is on standby for a rapid response and food distribution could start in a matter of hours after the hurricane passes.
The Programme has pre-positioned emergency food supplies in 32 centres around the country, with enough food to feed 1.1 million people for six weeks, and it has set up an alternate transport system for the hurricane season, including a barge service which connected all the major ports so that humanitarian aid could be transported around the country if the roads became impassable. For the health system’s response to the cholera outbreak, WFP has provided more than 40,000 ready to eat meals to hospitals for staff, patients and care-givers so that they have clean food that did not require water for its preparation.
OCHA also warned of the potential impact of Hurricane Tomas on the countryside. Haiti had a serious deforestation problem, and with the rains and winds approaching, there is nothing to hold back the water and the mud, and this could have dramatic consequences for the population, especially those near the coast and those in temporary shelters in the capital.