Hurricanes Gustav, Hanna Pound Weary Haiti

September 2, 2008–As if this struggling island’s food woes were not painful enough, poor Haitian families and farmers are now being brought to their knees by a series of severe storms.

The high-powered winds of Hurricanes Gustav and Hanna have passed, but the torrential rains and flooding have not ceased.

 “The whole country is now affected by severe flooding and heavy rains”, said Alix Innocent, director of CRS’ emergency unit in Port au Prince. “The situation is getting worse throughout the country”.

Gustav, a category one storm, struck last week, as families were recovering from the effects of Tropical Storm Fay which touched down in Haiti three weeks ago. Gustav dumped between 6 and 12 inches of rain in parts of the island, triggering life-threatening floods and landslides. Floodwaters raged down the country’s bare mountainsides into tin shack communities unable to withstand the
pressure.

Riding the coattails of Gustav was Hurricane Hanna, which made landfall September 1 as a tropical storm. All departments, including Les Nippes, in the south, and Gran Anse have suffered severe flooding, making it difficult to reach these people in need.

About 6,000 people fled to shelters throughout the western and southeast provinces. Approximately 250 houses have thus far been destroyed or damaged.

 “There is also new flooding in the south in Les Cayes and there are reports of flooding up to 3 to 4 meters in Gonaives in the north. It’s raining heavily here in Port-au-Prince,” said Innocent who was in the midst of distributing supplies to families hit by Gustav.

In response, CRS has been distributing food to 3,000 people and emergency supplies to 900 residents.  Assessment teams are currently touring flooded areas to determine damage and needs.

A People Suffering  

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with more than two-thirds of Haitians living on less than a dollar a day. Occupying the western third of the island of Hispaniola, Haiti, which is slightly larger than the state of Maryland, is home to about 8 million people. The nation’s dire poverty is exacerbated by the needs of a large population.

Crops throughout affected areas took an unfortunate blow. Compounded rainfall from the recurring storms drenched already fragile farmland. While the amount of acreage that was destroyed is still unclear, this year’s harvest would have provided some relief to families suffering from the high prices of food–most of which is imported.

Rains can be devastating for Haiti, which has lost 99% of its protective forestry. Its mountain terrain is extremely degraded and bare, leaving valleys susceptible to flash flooding and landslides. Many of these communities rely on food subsidies, especially as the country faces a food crisis. Losing their homes and crops to the storms mean even greater suffering.

CRS’ Work in Haiti

With more than 50 years of experience in Haiti, CRS is now one of the largest U.S. humanitarian organizations working in the
country. Serving nearly 200,000 of the poorest and most marginalized Haitians, our projects provide assistance with health and nutrition, disaster recovey, education, water and sanitation, HIV and AIDS, agriculture, and migration.

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