HAITI - Preparing for the Hurricane Season
The humanitarian community is preparing for the worst by prepositioning emergency shelter materials for 25,000 families with a view to increase to increase the shelter response capacity to cover the needs for 130,000 families (650,000 people) by September.
At the same time a communications strategy is being put in place to issue warnings to Haitians to prepare for violent weather. The city of Gonaives, which was badly hit by hurricanes Gustav, Hanna and Ike in 2008, was holding a simulation exercise this week.
Haiti's Department of Civil Protection (DPC) along with IOM, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and other humanitarian actors are producing roadside billboards and posters with advice on safety during storms. The posters will be placed on the information kiosks which IOM is locating in as many camps as possible over the coming weeks.
A public awareness messaging system - general messages about hurricane preparedness is also being prepared for the Haitian population. In addition, camp managers will be sent SMS text messages up to four days before dangerous storms make landfall so that they can prepare camp residents for possible evacuation.
Haiti is situated in the middle of "Hurricane Alley", a path that major tropical cyclones tend to take after they form in the mid Atlantic.
Flash floods pose the greatest danger to life for the 9.9 million Haitians who live cheek by jowl in country which has been denuded of trees by decades of deforestation.
Adding to the problems are dangerous conditions for the displaced in many of the 1,300 sites set up after the earthquake. Despite extensive engineering efforts to make camps safer, the risks of flooding remain considerable.
"The dozens of hurricanes and storms to have struck Haiti in the past five years have caused more than 5,000 fatalities," said Eric Holthaus from the International Research Institute for Climate and Society at Columbia University. "Nearly all of these deaths resulted from heavy rains and flooding and the earthquake has created greater vulnerability."
Efforts by the humanitarian community are now focused on getting the displaced out of tents and into solid shelters. At the moment there is enough dedicated contingency stock to cover the needs of some 21,000 families (105,000 people) nationwide.
So far 5,657 transitional shelters have been built of which more than 5,000 were completed over the last two months. An additional 15,000 transitional shelters are in the pipeline but cannot yet be built, because not enough land is available, either because the land is still blocked by debris from the quake or ownership is unclear.
No one underestimates the scale of challenges ahead and the likelihood that coming bad weather may bring another humanitarian disaster down on the heads of the Haitian people. Even if evacuation plans are carried out with military efficiency, there remains the problem of where to relocate vulnerable populations as most of the country's hurricane shelters were rendered unusable by the earthquake.
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