UN braces half a million in Haiti for storm threat

2nd November 2010, Comments 0 comments

Relief agencies on Tuesday stepped up emergency plans to protect up to 500,000 Haitians from a tropical storm forecast to hit the country amid fears that it could also help the cholera epidemic spread.

"The UN in Haiti, MINUSTAR (peacekeeping force), are setting up an emergency plan designed to cope with Hurricane Tomas, which is approaching the island and could affect up to half a million people," said UN spokeswoman Corinne Momal Vanian.

Some of the 1.3 million homeless quake victims have been evacuated from flimsy makeshift camps in the Port-au-Prince area, while food supplies for 1.1 million people as well as shelter and medical supplies were pre-positioned.

International Organisation for Migration (IOM) spokesman Jean Philippe Chauzy said the storm "could aggravate the cholera epidemic" if it hit the country by helping the waterborne bacterial disease spread into Port-au-Prince.

Haiti has already suffered the double blow this year of a devastating earthquake that levelled parts of the capital, killing 250,000 people, in January, as well as an unprecedented cholera epidemic that has infected more than 4,700 people further north and killed 337 since late October.

Hurricane Tomas has been downgraded to a tropical storm and was tracking westwards about 250 kilometres south of Port-au-Prince, but local forecasters predicted it would swing northwards and reach Haiti on Friday, the World Meteorological Organisation said.

WMO meteorologist Christian Blondin nonetheless added a note of caution about the high margin of error of such hurricane forecasts.

Aid agencies still fear the impact of a tropical storm, even if it brushes the island with lashings of rain.

The IOM also raised concerns about the vulnerability of open latrines and untreated water supplies in the city's slums.

Southwestern coastal towns of Jacmel and Leogane were the most exposed to the storm, the UN humanitarian coordination office (OCHA) warned.

© 2010 AFP

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