Aid agencies race against Haiti hurricane
Aid agencies were racing against time Friday before the full force of Hurricane Tomas hit Haiti, threatening 1.3 million earthquake refugees huddled in tent cities, a UN offical said.
The United Nations had activated its major disaster crisis unit Friday, Byrs said, adding that the first aerial missions to monitor the extent of the huricane's impact would be flown Saturday.
"It's a race against time, there's not a moment to lose so were are ready for the arrival of the hurricane," Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman for the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) told journalists.
"United Nations agencies are on a war footing because they believe half a million people at least will be affected," she said as heavy rains and wind began lashing the island.
Byrs said this estimate could be much higher given the number of people still displaced by January's earthquake in the impoverished Caribbean nation.
The heavy destruction of forest cover in Haiti could also make the situation worse, with no trees to prevent mudslides, she said.
Particularly at risk were people on the coast towards Gonaives and Cap Haitien, as well as those still under tents round the capital of Port au Prince", she said.
OCHA and the World Health Organisation also fear that storm-polluted water could worsen the current epidemic of cholera in Haiti which has so far killed nearly 450 people, according to local authorities.
"The sanitary conditions in many areas combined with the huge amount of rains or flooding are likely to accelerate the infection rate," WHO spokewoman Faida Chaib told AFP.
While the WHO "does not expect the overall caseload to rise significantly ... "the infection rate will just grow earlier and faster," she said.
"Humanitarian aid workers have tried to prepare themselves as best they can, but coping with three disasters at once, the consequences of the earthquake, the cholera and now the hurricane, is a real challenge," Byrs said.
© 2010 AFP