By Ezra Fieser for Infosurhoy.com – 31/08/2012
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic – Tropical Storm Isaac cut a deadly path through the Caribbean before setting its aim on the U.S. Gulf Coast. But officials said the storm’s devastation was minimized by preparation, particularly in Haiti, and a little luck.
The storm, which passed over the region the weekend of Aug. 25, killed 29 people – 24 in Haiti and five in neighboring Dominican Republic – officials said. It also left widespread flooding and wind damage.
Yet, Isaac skirted along the southern coast of Hispaniola – the island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic – and north of Cuba, sparing major cities a direct hit.
“We were lucky in that the storm didn’t hit us directly,” said Lorenzo García, director of Caritas Dominican Republic, which provides humanitarian assistance.
Still, Tropical Storm Isaac was the 2012 Atlantic season’s first major threat, particularly to Haiti, where an estimated 390,000 residents still live in camps after being displaced by the January 2010 earthquake.
Many of those camps are precariously positioned, leaving residents vulnerable to flooding and landslides. And the tents and shacks in which they live could be torn apart by wind or damaged by heavy rain.
Officials said improved coordination before the storm helped minimize destruction and save lives.
“The government of Haiti has spent months training and executing simulation exercises, as well as developing procedures for managing evacuations and evacuation shelters,” the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) said in a statement.
For the first time, the Haitian government led a pre-storm evacuation. The Department of Civil Protection coordinated with police, emergency agencies and a handful of United Nations organizations to prepare shelters equipped with food, water and other supplies.
About 14,400 people, primarily in the West and Southeast departments, were relocated ahead of the storm’s arrival, the government said.
The administration of President Michel Martelly said the preparation demonstrated drastically improved coordination between government agencies and international organizations. But the storm was also an important reminder of the need to move earthquake victims out of camps and into more permanent housing.
“The international community must continue to support [Haiti]. The problem must be solved in the long term,” Martelly said in a statement.
The International Organization for Migration said 575 camps remain, down significantly from the 1,555 camps that were opened two years ago to house some 1.5 million earthquake survivors.
For camp residents, daily life remains a struggle.
In a sprawling camp built on a hillside in the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, Jean Leclère, who has been living in a tarp-covered shack since the days after the earthquake, said assistance has nearly come to a halt.
“We have to buy nearly everything we need and most of us don’t have jobs,” he said. “It’s too expensive for us to move out.”
The government’s relocation plan has centered on giving residents like Leclère subsidies to rent a house in one of six major neighborhoods in Port-au-Prince, the capital. Separately, aid organizations have worked on their own plans to relocate residents.
“We are firmly committed to permanently resolving the housing problem in Haiti and we thank the international community for its unwavering support,” Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe said in a statement.
Following the storm, the government and international organizations sought to help camp residents who’d lost their shelters by providing supplies and cash.
In an innovate approach, the government said it teamed with telecommunications company Digicel to transfer money via cell phone to about 5,000 people, with each receiving $500 Haitian gourdes (about US$12), enough to buy supplies.
Meantime, Red Cross teams handed out emergency supplies to about 2,000 people, and USAID teams distributed water and hygiene kits in 23 camps in Port-au-Prince, the agency said.