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Canada Sep 13, 2017

Haitian D&P partners relieved Hurricane Irma not as bad as feared

By Deborah Gyapong

People walk in floodwater caused by Hurricane Irma in Romeo Et Malfety, Haiti, Sept. 8. (Jean Marc Herve Abelard / EPA / CNS)

OTTAWA (CCN)—Development and Peace/Caritas Canada’s Haitian partners are relieved Hurricane Irma did not hit the island nation with full force, says its Latin American programs officer.

“People are relieved,” said Mary Durran in a phone interview from Montreal. “They were expecting a big storm, a catastrophe.”

On Sept. 8, Irma was ranked a Category 5 hurricane and one of the most powerful storms to ever form in the Atlantic Ocean with wind speeds reaching 295 kilometres per hour.

Though initially Haiti was expecting a direct hit, Irma changed course, turning northwest.
The government prepared for the storm by setting up several hundred shelters across the island, Durran said.

Irma was expected to hit Haiti’s north coast, an area not accustomed to hurricanes.

Though Development and Peace’s partners were aware of the coming storm, many of the local people “had not been informed what to do and didn’t take the threat that seriously,” Durran said.

“Mercifully, the hurricane hit a lot more lightly than expected,” Durran said. “There was no loss of human life, but crops were destroyed, some flimsily built houses were severely damaged, and many small animals like goats, hens, and pigs were lost.”

One of Development and Peace’s partners on Ile de la Tortue, an island off Haiti’s northern coast, said buildings were destroyed, Durran said.

In Baie de Henne, about 75 per cent of small crop holdings were destroyed and some houses damaged, she said. In Pointe Jean-Rabel, in the northwest, 75 per cent of garden plots were lost.

“It illustrates just how fragile things are,” Durran said.

Haitians are used to tropical storms and depressions that do a lot of damage through flooding or high winds this time of year, she said. They often lose part of their crops during the hurricane season.

Though Haiti’s north and northeast experienced a lot of flooding, it was “not life-threatening flooding,” Durran said, though pictures show people with water up to their knees.

“Haitians live a very poor and precarious lifestyle,” she said. “Any weather shocks like that cause quite a bit of damage.”

“Haitians are quite resilient and they were expecting something far worse,” she said.

Development and Peace is not planning a special campaign to help out Irma survivors. Durran said the real need is for funds for their long-term development work in the area. Haiti is the only Caribbean island where the Canadian bishops’ overseas aid agency has partners.

“It’s our regional development work that can help build up resilience for these kinds of shocks,” she said.

Development and Peace recently approved a goat-rearing project in northwestern Haiti, “something that will provide income for very poor people,” she said.

The agency is also supporting several agriculture projects in various parts of the country.
While long-term development cannot prevent tragedies like hurricanes, they mitigate their effects and help people recover more quickly, Durran said.