31 October 2012

Major Concerns in Haiti in the Wake of Hurricane Sandy

A version of this originally appeared in the PSI Impact Blog.

Hurricane Sandy ripped through the Caribbean earlier this week on its way to becoming what some called a 'Frankenstorm' that devastated the northeastern United States. The storm caused major flooding in New York City, battered homes on the coast of Rhode Island and left more than six million people without power in 17 states.

The NYT has a fantastic interactive site on Sandy that includes graphics like the one seen above.

Reports early this morning from the Associated Press indicate that 55 people died as a result of Hurricane Sandy with an expectation that the number will rise in the coming days. The Breezy Point neighborhood of Queens was struck particularly hard during the storm when a fire spread quickly due to the heavy winds completely destroying somewhere between 50 to 100 buildings.

FDR Drive NYC, Credit
Recovery efforts are underway to support people who were affected by the storm. The American Red Cross reports that 11,000 people spent Monday night in 258 Red Cross shelters in 16 states. The relief organization is in the process of distributing clean up kits to people affected by Sandy.

Prior to making landfall in the United States, Sandy struck the Caribbean with it centering on Jamacia and Cuba. It is blamed for some 70 deaths; the majority took place in Haiti. The BBC's Mark Doyle reports that the storm made at least 20,000 people homeless.

The massive flooding in Haiti only acts to make matters worse in regards to the two year old cholera outbreak. NGOs are already reporting a rise in the number of choler cases since Sandy hit Haiti.

However, it is the severe damage to crops in Haiti that is leading some to worry. "The storm took everything away," a spokesman for Haiti's Ministry of Agriculture told Reuters. "Everything the peasants had in reserve – corn, tubers – all of it was devastated."

The mayor of the Haitian town of Abricots told Reuters he worried of a coming famine in the town and an aid worker with Plan International told The Independent that there are concerns of growing civil unrest as the result of a rise in food prices.

Santo Domingo, DR; Credit
Humanitarian funding in Haiti is down from $2 billion in 2010 to $75 million in 2012, said OCHA head Johan Peleman to the
 Guardian. It is expected that the Haitian government and the United Nations will issue a joint appeal for international funding to respond to the damage caused by Sandy.

Relief stocks were already running low prior to the storm, further complicating the response. "These stocks are running dangerously low," said George Ngwa, spokesman for OCHA, a humanitarian coordinating body in Haiti told Reuters. "After Tropical Storm Isaac in August, these stocks have not been replenished. What we're doing is scraping the bottom."

It is a good time to note the value of donating cash instead of goods. Relief organizations are well equipped to mount an effective relief effort. Money will give them the discretionary ability to apply funds where needed. That means that organizations get exactly what they need and your support is extremely effective. There are certainly exceptions to any rule. Some food pantries, for example, will request non-perishable foods. In that case it is the organization explicitly recognizing what it needs to do its work.

If you want to support the relief and recovery work for communities impacted by Hurricane Sandy, you can go to the American Red Cross website to volunteer, they are seeking volunteers near affected areas, donate blood at your nearest Red Cross office or text redcross to 90999 on your mobile phone to make a $10 donation (data rates apply).