GENEVA - United Nations and international aid agencies are rushing to help tens of thousands of Haitians devastated by Hurricane Matthew, one of the strongest hurricanes to hit the Caribbean in recent history. More than 800 people reportedly have been killed, but that number is expected to rise.
All the major U.N. and relief agencies have sent expert teams into Haiti to assess the storm damage and to deal with the logistics of providing critical shelter, food, safe water, medical care and other vital assistance.
The government of Haiti estimates at least 350,000 people are in need of immediate humanitarian assistance. The authorities report nearly 2,000 homes have been flooded and hundreds more damaged or destroyed.
Jens Laerke, a spokesman for the U.N. office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs, says a seven-person emergency team has begun assessing the damage caused by the hurricane.
“We are still awaiting for consolidated findings of what they saw. We are pending the return of this team," Laerke told reporters. " But, the aerial photos that we have seen does show very severe destruction and flooding in the area. Communications are limited. Many roads are impassable in that area due to the flooding.”
Haiti is prone to disasters. In anticipation of this hurricane, the World Food Program pre-positioned enough food for 300,000 people for one month.
WFP spokeswoman Bettina Luescher says 25 tons of food have been put in some of the worst affected areas, ready to be distributed to some 9,000 people.
“There are big logistical challenges," she explained. "Some of the most important bridges, which are the lifelines to the southwest have been damaged. We are going to use a helicopter to bring humanitarian personnel and relief items to the affected areas. For example, flying in a generator.”
Danger of waterborne illnesses
The World Health Organization warns waterborne illnesses will likely break out in a couple of weeks. The agency is particularly worried about the spread of cholera due to the massive flooding. WHO says it is deploying field epidemiologists with cholera experience to track and control the outbreaks.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is appealing for nearly $7 million to provide first aid and emergency health care, psycho-social support, water and sanitation, shelter materials and many other necessities.