Thursday, September 4, 2008

Justima on Hurricane Hanna and The Disaster in Gonaives, Haiti

Justima on Hurricane Hanna and The Disaster in Gonaives, Haiti

Here is a view of what Hanna did to Gonaives, Haiti's fourth largest city. It seems a repeat of what Tropical Storm Jeanne did 4 years ago in killing close to 3000 people in the area. We are trying to help through surrogates on the ground, possibly sending lower priced rice to be sold as a breather to the people.

But the endemic problem of low-lying Gonaives that sits as a "cuvette"' or a tub at the back of a couple of nearby mountains persists. About a month, before the first disaster of Tropical storm Jeanne, in August 2004, Dr Emmanuel Justima, the Head of Fondation JUSTIMA, went to Gonaives and warned "Gonaivians" of the potential problems.

In a clear and simple language that all could understood, Justima reviewed with the hundreds of people that were assembled to hear him speak what danger exactly he thought the people of Gonaives were facing. Then he stated the obvious comprehensive solutions. He said on top of the urgent re-directing of the three rivers which converge near the city and the deepening of them to at least 30 feet so they are less likely to burst their banks, even in the case of a storm of the century, here is what else needed to be done:

"We prescribe on top of that to re-drain, the "re-drainage" of the entire city or the "re"-construction of sewers and digs and canals with locks to manage any excess water. There must be also man-made lakes or "lacs collinaires" as well as big, deep, 30-feet bassins and/or in-pluviums to collect the water at the source as well as serious deep "curage" or cleaning of Gonaives harbor which is filled with debris and alluvions that is becoming an obstacle course which keeps on pushing any drained water back to the city.

And lastly over an abundance of caution, we ask that guaranteed low-cost loans be made available by the Haitian State for all houses in Goanaives to be retrofitted so they can be from now on on a raised foundation if all else fails. This is the only comprehensive systemic strategy to save thousands of lives we are proned to lose each time we would have a sustained drenching rain here. Do not forget, we have yet to re-forest these nearby mountains which are totally desolate and are without any trees that have been cut. As a consequence no retention of rain water is any longer possible which anyway would only slow down this serious potential for killer and muddy very high flood waters that I see that can plague and deluge this area any time there would be serious stalling storms over Haiti. Gonaives has that problem, Anse a Veau has that problem, Leogane has that problem among many. We must act before to pre-empt any of that."

That was foresight on the part of Justima, a vision of the way forward, a concern for the future since August 2004 and a concern to unstuck in the areas where Haiti has been stuck for years. This job must be done as Justima called it, for the sake of Gonaives and very probable continuing calamities. If not, we will continue to have the United Nations and the international community rushing in endlessly with inflatable boats and helicopters to rescue people from some things from mother nature which can, if not averted all together, be made manageable with absolutely no further loss of life.

And this is the scandal about all this help for Haiti, short of the AIDS issue that the spread seems to have been contained, nothing seems to change in the eyes of many or nothing seems to be seriously or radically being worked on so that one thing can change for good.

Here is the report:
Updated: 9/3/2008 11:32:02 PM

Associated Press

Haiti bears Hanna's wrath

GONAIVES, Haiti (AP) - Entering a flooded city on inflatable boats, U.N. peacekeepers found hundreds of hungry people stranded for two days on rooftops and upper floors Wednesday as the fetid carcasses of drowned farm animals bobbed in soupy floodwaters.

Even as Tropical Storm Hanna edged away to the north, forecasters warned that a fourth storm - Hurricane Ike - could hit the Western hemisphere's poorest country as a major storm next week.

Haiti seems cursed this hurricane season, with its crops ruined and at least 126 people killed by three storms in less than three weeks. An estimated 26 people have died from flooding caused by Hanna.

"If we keep going like this, the whole country is going to crash," moaned Mario Marcelus, who was trying to reach his family in Gonaives but didn't dare cross the floodwaters.

Rescue convoys had been trying to drive into Gonaives, Haiti's fourth-largest city, but kept turning back because lakes formed over every road into town. On Wednesday, Associated Press journalists accompanied the first group of U.N. troops to reach the city aboard Zodiac boats.

Argentine soldiers based in Gonaives plucked residents from rooftops that were the only visible parts of their houses. In a cemetery, only the tops of tombs glimmered beneath the water. The carcasses of dead animals, including a donkey and a cow, floated amid debris as flies swarmed.

About 150 people were crowded into a church. Most retreated to a large balcony above the floodwaters, where they waited in misery for the destruction to recede.

"There is no food, no water, no clothes," said the 37-year-old pastor, Arnaud Dumas. "I want to know what I'm supposed to do. ... We haven't found anything to eat in two, three days. Nothing at all."

The Gonaives area, where about 110,000 people live, accounted for most of the 2,000 victims of Tropical Storm Jeanne in 2004. Some residents said the current flooding was at least as bad, and criticized the government for failing to implement safety measures in the past four years.

"This is worse than Jeanne," said Carol Jerome, who fled from Gonaive on Tuesday.

About two-thirds of Gonaives was covered in mud, although it was difficult to determine the extent of the flooding from the air, U.S. Coast Guard spokesman Matt Moorlag said after planes conducted flyovers. Severe weather prevented the planes from assessing the situation in the surrounding mountains, and there was no way to reach the area.

In the chaos, there was no way of knowing how many people might be dead in the area, or how many had been driven from their homes. People kept a wary eye on water levels, which appeared to be holding steady on Wednesday as Hanna moved farther offshore.

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