Why Hurricane Matthew Will Be An Especially Devastating Blow to Haiti


Past flooding in Haiti.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Tuesday October 4, 2016
– Six years after a devastating 7.0-magnitude earthquake killed more than 200,000 people, Haiti braces for Hurricane Matthew amid fears that the country is ill-equipped to face another deadly natural disaster.

The impoverished country has a number of strikes against it as the powerful storm plows slowly toward its coastline.

At least 55,000 residents still live in tents and makeshift shelters after the earthquake that flattened some 300,000 buildings, according to ABC News Australia. Many others live in unstable homes with flimsy roofs.

With an expected 40 inches of rain on the way, the country is looking at even more devastation exacerbated by deforestation, which increases the potential for floods and mudslides. Couple that with the state of the country’s dilapidated homes and buildings and the possibility of heavy casualties from the storm seems likely, the Associated Press (AP) reports.

With little thought to the consequences of deforestation, residents routinely cut down trees to use as fuel and to cook meals.

According to the U.S. Agency for International Development, only 2 percent of Haiti’s forests remain. Roughly 90 percent of Haitians rely on charcoal, which is produced from burning wood, as their primary source of energy.

Political upheaval and divisions have hindered any progress to rebuild following the earthquake, leaving buildings in a weakened state and many residents homeless.

Still, the government has prepared for the storm’s arrival as best they can.

According to the AP, 1,300 emergency shelters have opened up across the country, enough to hold up to 340,000 people.

In an effort to counter the common tendency for people to try to stay in their homes to protect themselves during natural disasters and to draw endangered people to shelters, the government broadcast warnings over the radio and across social media, urging residents to move to the shelters.

President Jocelerme Privert urged Haitians to listen closely to the warnings of officials and be ready to move in an address to the nation broadcast on state radio Sunday, according to the AP.

“To those people living in houses that could collapse, it’s necessary that you leave these houses to take refuge in schools and churches,” he said.

While the initial impacts of the hurricane are daunting enough, the long-term effects are worrying authorities. Many are concerned about an increase in the number of cholera cases, the waterborne disease that has killed more than 9,000 and sickened more than 700,000 Haitians following the earthquake.

“Hurricane Matthew’s flood waters will likely kill innocent Haitians twice: first with raging flood waters in the next 48 hours and then with the disease of cholera that will last for weeks following the storm,” said Bill Horan, president of Operation Blessing International. “Based on the rainfall predictions and how slow this storm is moving, we fear that Matthew will bring a tsunami of cholera cases unseen since post-earthquake days.”

Many humanitarian organizations like World Vision and the Salvation Army are mobilizing to provide emergency supplies and medicine for the days, weeks and months ahead as Haiti once again sets its sights on rebuilding the country.


Workers for the non-profit organization World Vision unloading supplies before Hurricane Matthew makes landfall. (Photo Credit: World Vision)

As Matthew moves ever closer to the impoverished island, many Haitians seemed resigned to the fact that not everyone will survive the wrath of Matthew in a country ill-equipped to handle another natural disaster.

One of those is Serge Barionette, who lives in the southern town of Gressier, where a river recurrently bursts its banks during serious storms.

“Some of us will die,” Barionette told AP. “But I pray it won’t be a lot.” (The Weather Channel)

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