Thousands still struggling to rebuild in Haiti

Published on 15 September 2005

If Marie Jean Sylverin, survivor of last year’s tropical storm Jeanne in Haiti, had a TV in the one-room shack where she lives with her four daughters, she would watch in awe as massive rescue and recovery efforts fanned out over the United States, reaching areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

With the outpouring of generous assistance now available to help the victims, American hurricane survivors - some, like Sylverin, poor and homeless - are assured adequate resources to rebuild their lives, their homes, their dreams. In fact, they face prospects of an even better life in the future.

Shelter built from rubble

Marie Jean Sylverin, however, has no such hopes. Her shelter was built with the rubble from houses destroyed when tropical storm Jeanne hit Gonaïves, a northern coastal town, on 18 September 2004, leaving a trail of death and devastation still felt today.

It was a massive blow to Haiti, which was already suffering from decades of social and economic degradation, political crisis and recurrent natural disasters.

Sylverin, 42, still has no means to build a new house. She and her children still live in their shelter, just big enough for one bed where all five of them sleep.

Huge task of rebuilding

The huge task of rebuilding the homes and lives for thousands and thousands of people – like Sylverin – still remains one year after the disaster, which set off one of the most important emergency operations for WFP in Haiti.

Just two days after the floods had left 3,000 people dead and close to 300,000 in need of assistance, WFP convoys were on the road to assist the survivors with humanitarian food aid.

During the six-month-long emergency operation, up to 160,000 people – the vast majority of them women and children – regularly received WFP food distributions to help them survive the disaster.

Height of the hurricane season

With the hurricane season now at its height, the ability to respond fast and adequately to emergencies like the Gonaïves floods is crucial in a country like Haiti, where other natural disasters will inevitably follow.

Climate changes have doubled the number of hurricanes in the last 15 years, and this year tropical storms and hurricanes could claim even more lives in the region – one of the most disaster-prone areas of the world – because it is still ill prepared to cope with natural disasters.

Environmental degradation

Haiti in particular – the poorest country in the western hemisphere – is highly vulnerable to floods and mudslides because of environmental degradation.

Intense deforestation has stripped the hills and mountains of trees – more than 98 percent of the country has been deforested – leaving nothing to hold back the floods. Even small storms and rains can cause major catastrophes and result in severe economic setbacks.

Targeted distributions

WFP is currently assisting almost 850,000 people in Haiti with targeted distributions to malnourished children, pregnant and nursing mothers, and people affected by HIV/AIDS, as well as providing food to primary school children under its school feeding programme.

This operation allows the agency to reserve 15 percent of its resources to respond to emerging crises. Unfortunately, it now faces a funding shortfall of more than 75 percent – or US$30.6 million.

One year after Jeanne, WFP urges donors to continue to show the same generosity as they did then, to enable the agency to respond as quickly for the victims of the next natural disaster.