Inter-Agency Standing Committee, From ReliefWeb
Halfway through hurricane season, Haiti has managed to escape a major storm. However the risk remains imminent each day, and the country continues to brace itself for the potentially devastating effects of a tropical storm or a hurricane. Since January, governments and humanitarian agencies have flocked to the country in order to assist in the reconstruction and recovery process. But all efforts are about to be challenged by the winds and rains of hurricane season. Less than one year later, Haiti could face yet another humanitarian disaster.
When a storm hits Haiti, it is not necessarily the winds which will pose the greatest danger to the earthquake affected areas. The major risks are landslides and flooding. Over the past three decades, Haiti’s poor have cleared most of the country’s indigenous forest in the pursuit of charcoal. Less than 2 per cent of forest-cover remains, increasing the nation’s vulnerability to landslides and flooding. As a result, Haiti has experienced incredible loss in recent years. Hurricane Jean in 2004 resulted in floods which killed 3000 people. In 2008 when four consecutive storms dumped heavy rains, 22,702 homes were destroyed and more than 84,000 were damaged.
Today there is an even greater vulnerability because of the damage caused by the earthquake. The Government of Haiti estimated in February that 1.5 million people were displaced. Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have found shelter in camps, with host families inside and outside the earthquake affected areas, or returned to their homes. The Shelter/NFI Cluster agencies have largely contributed to the availability of shelter assistance.
As of 20 September nearly 100,000 tents and more than 680,000 tarpaulins have been distributed. In addition to the 13,513 transitional shelters constructed, this means that over 2.2 million people have received shelter assistance. However these shelter options are not necessarily going to protect the population from extreme weather conditions.
Gerhard Tauscher, Head of the Shelter/NFI Cluster, the coordinating body for over 70 agencies supporting shelter needs in Haiti stated, “We all recognize the grave challenges ahead. Shelter agencies have been moving as quickly as possible to provide Haitians with secure housing options since the earthquake, but we also realize these are not necessarily solutions to major flooding or high level winds. Not all permanent housing can withstand such extreme weather conditions.”
In anticipation of these challenges, the Shelter/NFI Cluster members and camp management agencies have been assisting communities to prepare for the worst by distributing waterproof shelter materials, clearing drainage channels, carrying out assessments of at-risk camps, and engaging in awareness messaging on shelter preparedness. An evacuation simulation for several camps will be led by the Department of Civil Protection (DPC) with the support of several Shelter/NFI Cluster agencies on the 30 September.
The Shelter/NFI Cluster coordination team has supported partners in the pre-positioning of contingency stocks such as shelter kits, tarpaulins, hygiene kits, and kitchen sets. Vulnerable areas have been covered in anticipation of damaged bridges and inaccessible roads.
Yet despite all these efforts, if Haiti does not manage to escape a storm this hurricane season, many families who are still recovering from the earthquake will be facing another humanitarian crisis.
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