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UN: Hurricanes, Floods Create Huge Problems in Caribbean, Africa, South Asia


The United Nations top humanitarian official says recent floods and storms have created grave humanitarian situations in the Caribbean, South Asia, and West Africa. Various U.N. agencies are stepping up assistance to these hard-hit areas. From U.N. headquarters in New York, VOA correspondent Margaret Besheer has the story by intern Maha Saad.

With hurricane season underway, the Caribbean has been hit by a series of storms including Hurricanes Gustav and Hanna and Tropical Storm Fay. They have taken lives, damaged infrastructure, and displaced people. Several island nations have experienced their wrath, but U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes says Haiti is the worst hit with nine of its 10 districts seriously affected.

"It has been hit badly by three storms in three weeks and the damage from that has been severe, indeed. It is clear that the death toll is significant. Maybe between 100 and 200, but again, there are no very accurate figures available so far," he said.

Holmes says at least 600,000 people will need humanitarian assistance, but the current conditions are making it difficult to assess the damage and reach those in need. He said UNICEF, the World Food Program and other U.N. humanitarian agencies are helping feed and shelter thousands of storm victims on the island.

Meanwhile, South Asia is experiencing heavy rains and severe flooding. In Nepal, the Koshi river broke its banks on August 18, leaving more than 50,000 people displaced. U.N. agencies have been deploying humanitarian staff across the area, with food, shelter materials and drugs to prevent malaria and diarrhea outbreaks.

Across the border in India, the U.N. says severe flooding affected some three million people in 1,700 villages. At least 66 people died and more than 300,000 homes were damaged. Holmes says the Indian government is well-equipped to handle the emergency, but the U.N. has offered its help.

West Africa has also been struck by heavy rains and floods, causing some deaths, damaging homes, infrastructure and crops. Holmes says the global food crisis is adding to the stress of the situation. "They come on top of a difficult situation in many of these countries because of the global food crisis, which has been affecting them. Many of these countries are chronically food insecure to start with, so they start from a difficult position," he said.

He said U.N. agencies are also stepping up their assistance to these hard hit areas to help meet shortfalls.

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