Thursday, September 25, 2008

Haiti, U.N. Overwhelmed By Disaster: Envoy

By Joseph Guyler Delva

A general view of the Artibonite zone where Haitians cultivate rice near Gonaives September 19, 2008. Haiti has been blasted by four storms - Hurricanes Gustav and Ike and Tropical Storms Fay and Hanna - since mid-August, killing hundreds and destroying homes and crops.-REUTERS/ Eduardo Munoz

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Haiti's government and the U.N. mission to the impoverished Caribbean nation are overwhelmed by the scale of the disaster left by four recent storms, the U.N.'s special envoy to Haiti said on Thursday.

Hedi Annabi called on the international donor community to take extraordinary measures to help the poorest country in the Americas, which was hammered in the space of a month by tropical storms Fay and Hanna and hurricanes Gustav and Ike. Together they killed more than 600 people.

"It is a very grave situation and the scale of the disaster is beyond our capability and our means," Annabi told Reuters during a visit to Hinche, the main city in the Central Plateau region.

The United Nations launched an appeal for $108 million earlier this month to help the storm-ravaged nation. Many of Haiti's nearly 9 million people live on less than $2 a day.

The disaster threatens efforts by President Rene Preval to establish democratic institutions in Haiti, which has known little but political upheaval since it threw off French rule more than 200 years ago.

A U.N. peacekeeping mission was sent to Haiti in 2004 to provide security following the ouster of then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in a rebellion.

Deadly riots triggered by skyrocketing food prices struck the country in April, leading to the fall of the government.

Annabi described Gonaives, a west coast port city of about 300,000 people flooded by torrential rain from Hanna, as "practically completely destroyed."

"There is not one house that has not been either destroyed, damaged or swamped in a mud that sometimes reached a meter or two meters high (3.2 to 6.4 feet)," he said.

Gonaives was the scene of devastating floods triggered by Tropical Storm Jeanne in 2004 that killed about 3,000 people.

U.N. officials said the World Food Program has distributed food to more than 230,000 people in Gonaives.

About 800,000 people are in dire need of help, the U.N. has said.

"The people have lost everything in the floods and the cleaning and the reconstruction work will be enormous and very costly," Annabi said.

He said damage caused by the storms in the agricultural sector alone mounted to more than $200 million, according to an incomplete assessment.

Haiti may have lost 3 to 4 percentage points of gross domestic product and could have negative economic growth during the coming fiscal year as a result of the storms, Annabi said, citing experts.

(Editing by Jim Loney and Cynthia Osterman)

Source: Reuters.Com

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