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Oxfam gears up to help Haiti flood victims

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Oxfam gears up to help Haiti flood victims

International agency Oxfam is gearing up to help the victims of severe flooding in the Northwest of Haiti following tropical storm Jeanne, which ravaged the island on the weekend.

Oxfam is responding to the needs of thousands of people whose houses and lives have been damaged as a result of the storms and flooding. The town of Gonaives is the worst hit, with up to 80% of the town underwater and several hundred people dead. Port de Paix in the North, where Oxfam has been working to assist the population in the aftermath of the last floods, is also badly affected. The small island L’iles de la Tortue was hit by a tsunami and the situation is extremely serious.

Oxfam’s country programme manager in Haiti, Yolette Etienne, said: “I don’t know how much more we can take. These floods come on top of a series of disasters and difficulties that have beset this small island over the last year. The situation is very serious. Access is limited and it is difficult to assess the extent of the crisis but many people have died and others have had their homes and livelihoods destroyed and now face the threat of disease and further flooding.”

Water supplies have been contaminated, causing a threat to health, and the focus of Oxfam’s response is likely to be the provision of clean water and sanitation and promotion of good hygiene practices. Fields have also been flooded and crops destroyed. Many people are dependent on agriculture to make a living and there is a clear danger of food shortages and longer-term economic problems as a result of lost livelihoods. Oxfam is sending a food security expert out to Haiti to help deal with this.

An assessment team of experts from Oxfam, the UN and other agencies, travelled to the worst affected areas earlier this week in order to determine the extent of the damage and the level of help needed. Oxfam emergency water engineers will now travel from other parts of the country to assist. Oxfam has water and sanitation equipment in Haiti already including buckets, bladders, and tap stands which will be used in this response. Etienne: “We will concentrate as a priority on helping the people most in need now by providing clean water and sanitation to keep them alive and stop the spread of disease. But Haiti needs long-term attention, to give it a chance at a secure future.”

Oxfam has been working in Haiti for over 30 years. Its programmes include longer-term development and campaigning to address the problems of unfair global trade rules and lax arms controls that exacerbate poverty and undermine stability.

Access to the worst affected areas is still limited but floodwaters are retreating and Oxfam hopes to be able to begin water distribution and sanitation work in the next day or so. NZ$135,000 has been set aside to cover initial costs and more will be made available if necessary. Oxfam also has a team in Grenada responding to the floods and storm damage there.


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