This cyclone season in the Caribbean has been particularly hard on the nation of Haïti. Four severe storms have devastated the island that had barely recovered after three thousand people lost their lives in Gonaïves in 2004 after hurricane Jeanne. This season, tropical storm Fay killed forty people; Gustav killed seventy-seven; Hanna paralyzed Gonaïves once again, leaving sixty people dead; and Ike left 123 people without life. It is estimated that 300,000 people are homeless, relocated to temporary shelters for now. The central plateau and the region around Gonaïves (fondly called the Artibonite) are disaster zones now.
News from the regions most affected is at best piecemeal. World Vision is already on the ground working with local authorities and congregations to serve the neediest. It would be particularly imperative to pray for the Church in this part of Haiti, as it has not fully recovered from the events of 2004.
The dean of the seminary in Limbé, Jules Casseus, recounted how the whole north of the country was now cut off because of excessive flooding. Classes at the seminary have been delayed. The main road connecting the north is now submerged in two meters of water in eight different locations between Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haïtien. In an interview, one professor from the Université chrétienne du nord d’Haïti (UCNH) in Limbé said,
We do not get any electricity from the city power grid these days. Our generators are the only source of power. So when our stock of fuel is used up we will be without power and we will have to use electricity to pump water for the campus. We are switching to a new schedule and will only have power in our houses and the dorms in the evening for a few hours. In the morning, we will pump water for ourselves and the community with a small portable generator which is more economical.
Immediate priorities based upon the seven interviews for the victims of these four hurricanes include:
- Financial resources for College Élim in Gonaïves that has been severely hurt by the events. This is a fine evangelical school, providing excellent education for children in the region.
- Resources for churches in Cap-Haïtien and Port-au-Prince that are settling internally displaced peoples coming to the two largest cities because of the hurricanes.
- Immediate help to rebuild the agricultural base of the region, which is Haïti’s bread-basket (if there is one). One friend, a professor of agriculture wrote me, “People’s gardens are all gone and they don’t know where income will come from. Even if they replant now, it will take months for something to ripen for harvest. Bananas take a year or more; cassava is a minimum of six months. Beans are their quickest crop, and this is the season we are entering; however, their entire bean fields are along the river which is still flowing water and all their fields have been moved around. Some don’t even exist anymore.”
- Financial resources for World Vision Haïti. They are very present on the ground with two very specific responsibilities. First, they help relocate families and rebuild houses. Second, they learned after Jeanne that many families need psycho-spiritual help to get through the trauma. Imagine some 300,000 people having lost their Bibles in a country where this is often the only book people own.
- Scholarships for theology students. The vice rector of finances at UCNH told me, “We are going to give priority to the people affected by flooding in the distribution of scholarship monies. But the families affected are way more than the money we have. We would like to make an appeal for help for the young men and women who will have to drop out of school if they don’t receive help with their school. The typical cost for our students is $500USD a semester, $1000USD per year, but the students from Gonaïves are on meal plan and in a dorm, which raises the cost higher—closer to $800USD per semester.”