The rainy season will soon begin in Haiti. As a result of deforestation, flooding will be inevitable. What is not inevitable is how well the Haitian government and civil society respond in Gonaives and elsewhere. Unfortunately, Gonaives remains vulnerable and those who live there know it. Below is a piece by the New York Times about the uncertainty felt by the residents of Haiti's historic yet battered city.
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) is very active in Haiti, particularly in the sectors of water/sanitation and nutrition. UNICEF recently released their annual Humanitarian Action Report. It is intended for donors, but if you are interested in knowing what UNICEF did in Haiti during 2008 and seeks to accomplish in 2009, this is a good place to start. The Haiti section is copied below.
An interesting Miami Herald article circulated last week concerning Lake Azuei, the largest in the country and a source of livelihoods for many. The lake’s waters have been rising for two years as a result of clogged drainage canals and deforested mountains that are no longer capable of absorbing rainfall. If Haitian authorities do not demonstrate leadership in addressing the country’s environmental challenges, of which this is one, the end result will be yet more disrupted lives, livelihoods, and communities. From Gonaives to Lake Azuei to the slums of Port au Prince full of Haitians from the countryside who have given up on agriculture, the need for better environmental management is clear.
The Florida Association of Volunteer Action in the Caribbean and the Americas (FAVACA), the Lambi Fund of Haiti, and Project Medishare would like to invite you to participate in a joint fundraiser that will be held at the Coral Gables Congregational Church on November 14th at 6:30. The event will feature a keynote address by Calvin Hughes, WPLG Morning News Anchor. There will also be music and a silent auction of Haitian art. If you can attend, please RSVP at 304-448-7421. The address is 3010 De Soto Blvd in Coral Gables, Florida across from the Biltmore Hotel.
During a recent visit to Haiti, World Bank President Robert Zoellick warned that Haiti is at a ''tipping point'' given the billion dollars of damage caused by flooding from tropical storms. For the first time in years, Haiti has a legitimately democratic, albeit struggling, government. Given the World Bank's problematic history in Haiti, the agency should help the government by forgiving its debt -with the caveat that funds would be subject to external oversight and directed to disaster preparedness and response as well as reviving the agricultural sector.
The devastation to Gonaives brought with it a sense of déjà vu for Haiti watchers. We’ve been here before - the damage from Tropical Storm Jeanne was massive. Then as now, there were serious humanitarian needs that donors, non-governmental, and international organizations struggled mightily to meet. Then as now, there were a steady flow of politicians and celebrities. Other disasters happened elsewhere and Haiti again fell of the radar. The long term steps needed to ensure the survival of the city were not taken. Will things be different this time or will a preventable tragedy happen yet again?
By most accounts, the Haitian Government responded well to Gustav. The Haitian Ministry of Interior’s Office of Civil Protection (DPC) played an active role, gathering information and establishing shelters nationwide. However, Hanna overwhelmed the country's capacity and produced a national catastrophe that was exacerbated by Ike. The storms affected 600,000 people in nine of ten departments. Of them, the UN is reporting that 331 people have died and 70,000 people remain in shelters. Relief has been slow because of damaged infrastructure but it is arriving.
Below is an email Paul Farmer wrote to Partners in Health (PIH) HQ concerning the recent flooding in Haiti. The country is dealing with a true catastrophe, described by President Preval as a "nationwide Katrina." In addition to their responsibilities on the Central Plateau, PIH is stepping up by helping the Ministry of Health provide life saving services throughout the Artibonite. If you have been asking yourself how you can help Haiti, a donation to PIH to fund their emergency operations is an excellent way to do so. You can make a donation directly through their website. For additional information, read the transcript of an interview of Paul by Democracy Now here.
The damage caused by Gustav and Hannah have set Haiti back years. Many have lost their homes and livelihoods. Food security, already precarious, is worse as crops have been destroyed, fruit trees knocked over, and livestock killed. Gonaives, ever prone to flooding, bore the brunt but many other cities and towns were damaged and need assistance. The implications are being felt nationwide. Haiti needs its friends during the long recovery process.
Back in June of this year the National Hurricane Center at NOAA predicted an abnormal season with 17 to 18 storms in the Caribbean and 5 to 6 of those would have the potential to be major hurricanes. With the recent passage of Gustav and the pounding rains of Hanna and Ike and Josephine creeping closer, unfortunately the prediction is wreaking havoc on Haiti.