Haiti: Gonaïves prepares for the next hurricane season

Source(s): International Organization for Migration

High in the hills above the north-western city of Gonaives, farmers are hard at work preparing for the next hurricane season.

Closer to the city, a purpose built hurricane shelter has been built to accommodate families living in low-lying areas. Extra stories have been added to Gonaïves's schools so that vulnerable members of the population can be brought to safety. A bridge has been built to enable people to escape a vulnerable flood plain.

Twice in the space of four years, hurricanes have devastated this city. But the deaths of thousands of people in two calamitous storms (Tropical Storm Jeanne in 2004 and Tropical Storm Hanna in 2008) were caused, not by hundred-mile-an-hour winds, but by the raging floods that inundated the city in the wake of each tropical storm.

Torrents of water came spilling off the mountains, sweeping topsoil off fields, carving deep ravines and carrying countless of tons of mud and rock down valleys onto the helpless city below.

Mercius Paul paused from wielding his machete against a stubborn weed, to say: “I have seen many of my peers leaving this area in search of a better life, in the Dominican Republic, or Port-au-Prince, because they couldn't farm their lands. Today, as a result of this soil conservation project, many are coming back. Among my relatives alone, 50 people have returned to the area. I hope this project will continue throughout this area and even further to share the knowledge.”

With the 2010 hurricane season well underway, Gonaïves has barely dug itself out of the mountains of mud and dust left behind by Hanna. The waters were 7 meters deep in some parts of the city and when they receded, residents found that entire city blocks were in a terrible state. 

Much of the 2.5 million cubic metres of mud and debris left behind has now been removed, but the roads are rutted and the canals blocked with stagnant water and malarial mosquitoes.

IOM has been training and employing 175 men and women in the ancient skill of terracing as part of a US Agency for International Development (USAID) funded Programme de Revitalisation et de Promotion de l'Entente et de la Paix (PREPEP) project for rural employment creation.

Now stony fields are being turned into productive plots of land, upon which to grow peanuts and coffee. In another project, forests have replanted with such success that farmers are preparing to grow coffee and cocoa in the shade.

With engineers and agronomists managed by IOM and labour provided by hundreds of local men and women, fast progress is being made in terracing the hillsides and slowing the headlong rush of water down the valleys.

Before last January's earthquake, the fecund Artibonite Valley was home to some 30,000 people. After the quake, survivors quickly decamped to Gonaives. Today some 40,000 are still being looked after by host families where the welcome is now wearing thin. The traditional route of migration to the capital Port-au-Prince has been disrupted by the earthquake and many have sought livelihoods and safety by crossing illegally to the Dominican Republic.

Along with the intricate system of terraces and irrigation canals, 4.8 miles of hard top roads have been built. IOM has also completed the first purpose built hurricane shelter in the country while reinforcing 26 schools by either relocating them out of the flood plain or building second floors that double up as hurricane shelters.

Edner Cesaire, an agronomist with the IOM soil conservation project reached down to feel the rich black soil, which the overnight rains had just deposited on a corner of a field. “It's black gold,” he said as the soil crumbled through his fingers.

In preparation for the hurricane season, IOM is currently pre-positioning stocks for 20,000 families in Port-au-Prince, Gonaïves, Jacmel and Les Cayes. Prepositioned items include jerry cans, hygiene kits, and kitchen sets.

For more information, please contact:

Leonard Doyle
Media and Communications Officer
IOM Haiti
Tel: + 509 370 25066
E-mail: ldoyle@iom.int

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Hazards Cyclone Flood
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