Hurricane Sandy deals Haiti worst blow to recovery since earthquake

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 November, 2012, 3:39am

A woman who lost everything now gives her children coffee for meals because it quiets their stomachs a bit. Another despondent mother relives the awful moment when her 18-month-old baby was swept from her arms by a flash food. The bodies of a family of five killed in a mudslide still sit in a morgue unclaimed.

Haitians, who know well the death and despair natural disasters can cause, suffered mightily from Hurricane Sandy, which bashed the country's rural areas and killed at least 54 people.

Three weeks after the hurricane, Haiti, still struggling to recover from the earthquake in January 2010, is facing its biggest blow to reconstruction and slipping deeper into crisis, UN and government officials say, with hundreds of thousands at risk of hunger or malnutrition.

All around this hamlet and others nearby, the men and women who farmed bananas, plantains, sugar cane, beans and breadfruit stare at fields swept bare of crops, still flooded or coated with river muck that will probably kill off whatever plants are left. They had little, have endured much, and now need more.

"I do not know where we will find money for food and school now," said Olibrun Hilaire, 61, surveying his wrecked plantain and sugar cane farm in Petit-Goave that supported his family of 10 children and grandchildren.

As if the quake and Sandy were not enough, Haiti recently suffered a drought and the onslaught of another storm. Its food supply is now at risk following US$254 million in agricultural losses which have thrown 1.6 million people - about 16 per cent of the population - into dire straits.

Tropical Storm Isaac in August destroyed farms in the north after a spring drought that devastated farms there. Then came Hurricane Sandy.

Last week, the UN issued an emergency appeal for US$39 million in humanitarian aid to a world weary of its recurrent disasters. UN officials said they had received pledges for about US$8 million, and the Haitian government said it was in talks with donors to raise at least half the requested amount.

"This is a major blow to Haiti's reconstruction efforts, making life for most vulnerable Haitians even more precarious," said Nigel Fisher, the UN humanitarian co-ordinator in Haiti. "International partners' ability to respond has been reduced by dwindling donor support," he added.

The recent storms have damaged or destroyed 61 cholera treatment centres, leading to fears that there may be fresh outbreaks of an epidemic that has killed more than 7,500 people since 2010.

The hurricane took aim largely at agriculture, a quarter of Haiti's economy. After the quake in 2010, there were promises, never fully met, of revitalisation - things like new irrigation canals, river dredging and reforestation.

Though government officials blame unfulfilled aid pledges, international donors blame political uncertainty for the lack of progress. President Michel Martelly is on his second prime minister after 1-1/2 years in office.

"Donors don't contribute if there is no government," said Myrta Kaulard of the UN World Food Programme.