PORT AU PRINCE - The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has sent the first humanitarian convoy to the Haitian city of Gonaives, which was engulfed over the weekend by devastating floods that left hundreds of people dead and thousands more in desperate need of food assistance.
The convoy of 12 all-terrain trucks carrying 40 metric tons of rice, vegetable oil and dry rations, reached the city on Tuesday night. The food will be distributed by the non-government organisation, CARE, over the coming days. A second convoy is due to leave Port au Prince for Gonaives later today.
Tropical storm Jeanne has so far claimed 662 lives in Gonaives - but the final death toll could be much higher as relief operations continue and the waters fall back to normal levels.
"The water washed away entire homes and belongings. Many people don't even have the means to cook. To start with, we are supplying rations ready to eat until people get access to cooking facilities. We are also providing 5,000 loaves of fresh bread, the first time we have ever done this in Haiti," said Guy Gauvreau, WFP Haiti Country Director.
On 19 September, WFP Haiti approved the release of US$200,000 to provide early assistance to 35,000 vulnerable families affected by Haiti's latest emergency.
As well as leaving the whole of Gonaives submerged, the floods also hit Port de Paix in the north-west, where a joint UN assessment team has reported one third of the city under water. At least 56 people have died. As soon as the waters recede, WFP plans to distribute food from its strategically positioned warehouse in Port de Paix to help affected people in the area.
Haiti has been hit several times this year by serious flooding. Thousands of people were cut off in May by floods and landslides, as the country was already struggling to recover from months of civil and political upheaval. WFP provides food to more than 500,000 people in Haiti, the poorest country in the western hemisphere.
"At this point we think at least 175,000 people are affected across the country. Many of them were already very vulnerable and now, they have lost their homes, their entire crops, their animals and the few belongings they had. They are completely dependent on WFP and other humanitarian actors for help," said Gauvreau. "It is a huge disaster; the water has just washed away everything."
A joint UN assessment team, including WFP, UNICEF, OCHA and UNDP flew to Gonaives on 19 September. They reported that 80 percent of the 200,000 inhabitants have been hit by the floods, including the town's entire urban sector.
A second assessment team composed of OCHA, the International Red Cross, the World Health Organization, UN peacekeepers and the local civil protection forces also found similar scenes of devastation at Port de Paix.
WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency: in 2003 we gave food aid to a record 104 million people in 81 countries, including 56 million hungry children.
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WFP/Country Director Haiti
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Mob +39 3393385126