PORT-AU-PRINCE/SANTO DOMINGO - The United Nations World Food Programme has initiated a rapid response to help families affected by the devastating floods in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
On the Dominican Republic side, a UN joint relief agency assessment team evaluated the situation in Jimani, where over 300 people are feared to be dead or missing. The mission reported that families affected by the floods are already facing health threats due to lack of potable water and food, difficulties of access, and electricity cuts. The joint assessment mission concluded that some 5,000 people, or nearly 1,000 families, are urgently in need of humanitarian assistance in the area.
Across the border in Haiti, WFP has already begun delivering by helicopter 40 metric tonnes of food to Fond Verrettes, a Haitian farming town of 45,000 inhabitants built on a dried riverbed now almost destroyed. More than 500 houses were washed away by a flash mud flood. Many of the victims were sleeping when the disaster struck and some 680 people have to date been reported killed or missing.
Six WFP staff are already in Fonds Verrettes to oversee the distribution of food for 8,400 people, most of them made homeless by the floods that have also destroyed crops and decimated livestock, putting at risk the livelihoods of poor farmers. As the only road leading to the town located near the border with the Dominican Republic has been cut off in several parts by water; air transport is the only way to reach the area.
WFP will send another 20 metric tons of food from its warehouse in the Haitian capital to the town of Mapou, where some 1,000 people are reported missing. Logistics staff from the UN agency will travel to the disaster areas to monitor the distribution. The emergency rations include fortified biscuits, rice, cereal flour and vegetable oil.
In March 2004, WFP launched an Emergency Operation in Haiti aiming to assist 140,000 vulnerable people, affected by months of political and civil unrest. People now affected by the floods will also be assisted under this operation.
"The floods have caused serious damage to crops, livestock and food reserves, and thousands of families depend now on international assistance to get from one day to the next," said Guy Gauvreau, the WFP Representative in Haiti.
"We won't neglect the victims of these devastating floods, and fortunately we have the capacity to include them in our recently launched emergency operation. But to help all those affected, we need donors to be as generous as they have been in the past," he added.
To date, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland have provided support to WFP's ongoing Special and Emergency operations in Haiti. Despite these generous contributions, there is still a substantial shortfall of US$6,313,995 or 56.4 percent of the total amount appealed.
Haiti is at the eye of a fierce tropical storm that has been lashing the Caribbean for the past 10 days, with torrential rains and flooding that started on Sunday. According to the Haitian civil protection, the official death toll is of 1,600 people, although this figure may rise as more corpses are retrieved from the mud.
As the affected towns are not accessible by road, humanitarian aid is being transported by helicopters of the Multinational Interim Force (MIF) which was sent to Haiti to restore security following a period of political violence.
Note to media: For photographs from the assessment mission to Fond Verrettes, please contact Inigo Alvarez, Tel: +509-5508694, PortAuPrince.Guest1@wfp.org
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WFP/Latin America and the Caribbean
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Maria Paz Salas
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