UN extends Haiti mandate; death toll exceeds 1000 and full scope of destruction still unclear

(Photo Credit: Logan Abassi UN/MINUSTAH)

The United Nations extended its mandate in Haiti this week for an additional six months – a move that many Haitians may not welcome. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon is set to arrive in the devastated island nation Saturday following the largest hurricane to make landfall there in more than 50 years. FSRN’s Nell Abram has more.

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Hurricane Matthew slammed into the southwestern tip of the island, killing more than 1000 people, demolishing homes and wrecking the country’s agricultural region.

“It’s already been 12 days after the hurricane hit and it seems like the majority of the population in the affected areas are not being reached out to by the government as of yet,” said James Vergneau, a resident of Port au Prince who notes that every day Haitians were quick to mobilize a grassroots response to the hurricane, but first they need heavy machinery to clear blocked roads to hard-hit areas.

“A lot of the roads to get to those places, most have not even been cleared out yet for transportation to be able to function,” Vergneau adds.

According to the United Nations, almost 1.5 million people in the country need humanitarian aid, half of them need urgent “life-saving assistance and protection” – including almost 600,000 children.

“Even though this may not be front page news tomorrow or next week, people in Haiti are still doing this work and there’s going to be a need for long term engagement,” says Mark Schuller, author of Humanitarian Aftershocks in Haiti and longtime Haiti scholar and activist. He says the short term priorities are to replace food and water stocks and to rebuild infrastructure to re-establish communication with residents in affected areas.

But he also warns that this time international agencies and organizations need to apply the lessons of the 2010 earthquake and allow the expertise of Haitian grassroots groups to direct recovery efforts.

“This hurricane shows for once and for all the dire importance of protecting the environmental resources and to be taking a look at climate change not just as climate change but as climate justice,” said Schuller. “The U.S., the World Bank and the United Nations do need to do better in terms of how we impose our will on places like Haiti.”

The hardest hit region was the impoverished nation’s breadbasket, and survivors are left with little in terms of subsistence crops and herds, which were all but wiped out by the hurricane.

James Vergneau points out that the area was home to what little was left of Haiti’s tree cover and greenery: “Those areas that are hit are peasant areas, where farming is the main activity of the people. Those places are like the places that give more food to Haiti in terms of farming and vegetation and the greenery that was left there. And now, 95 percent of all that is destroyed.”

With many roads impassable and cell phone communication still largely down, the full scale of the storm’s aftermath remains to be seen. But it’s already clear that the destruction in key areas will have a reverberating effect on agricultural subsistence for the Haitian people who rely on the land.

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