Hurricane Matthew has made landfall in Haiti, bringing strong winds and torrential rains to the tiny island, the United Nations weather agency reported today, while UN relief agencies announced that they are mobilizing to assist, if requested, countries that are in the path of the dangerous Category 4 storm that is pummelling the Caribbean region.
“This is a very powerful and slow-moving [storm], making its potential impacts bigger. In Haiti, it could be potentially catastrophic,” Clare Nullis, spokesperson for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) told reporters at the regular bi-weekly press briefing in Geneva.
She added that while Haiti is the most vulnerable of all the islands in the path of Hurricane Matthew and the most exposed, other islands such as Jamaica, Cuba and the Bahamas would also face risks.
According to WMO, the eye of Matthew is forecast to move near eastern Cuba later today, and move near or over portions of the south-eastern and central Bahamas overnight and Wednesday, and approach the north-western Bahamas Wednesday night. With maximum sustained winds near 145 mph (230 km/h), with higher gusts, Matthew is expected to remain a powerful hurricane through at least Wednesday night.
As for Haiti, which continues to struggle with food insecurity, the country remains vulnerable while recovering from the 2010 earthquake, with 55,000 people still living in shelters. The sustained winds could raze its poorly built houses to the ground.
Meanwhile, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) are mobilizing resources to aid the people of Haiti. “Our priority is to support the governments’ interventions to save lives and meet the food needs of the most vulnerable and food insecure people affected,” said Miguel Barreto, WFP Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, who added that the agency is mobilizing its emergency staff and resources to deploy in the wake of the storm.
In addition, WFP has arranged enough food supplies to feed 300,000 people for a month. Valuable stockpiles have been allocated to primary locations, with a prompt access to remote areas if needed.
For its part, along with food supplies, UNICEF is also preparing life-saving aid for 10,000 people in Haiti.
Marc Vincent, UNICEF Representative in Haiti, described the hurricane as “the worst storm Haiti has seen in decades.” He also expressed concerns regarding access to enough safe water and the high risk of water-borne diseases in children.
According to UNICEF, less than 20 per cent of people in Haiti have access to proper sanitation, while almost half of the population utilizes unsafe water resources. Such unsanitary conditions and water damage might increase the number of cholera cases in the region.