United Nations relief agencies are heading up a global mission to bring food, shelter and construction materials to Caribbean islands battered by Hurricane Sandy — a belated response by the world body whose New York headquarters and staff were themselves hard hit by the deluge.
After a three-day closure amid the torrential rains and disrupted power, communications and transportation, U.N. agencies swung into action last week to organize emergency aid to Haiti and coordinate the dispatch of relief supplies throughout the Caribbean.
More than 1.2 million Haitians are facing "food insecurity" and at least 15,000 homes were destroyed when the huge storm's drenching periphery on Oct. 25 lashed one of the world's poorest nations, where about 350,000 were still homeless and sheltering in tents nearly three years after the devastating earthquake of January 2010.
A yearlong drought and damage from Hurricane Isaac in August had already taken their toll on food production in Haiti and Sandy has significantly worsened the crisis, Johan Peleman, head of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Haiti, told U.N. Radio in an interview.
"With this new tropical storm, we fear that a great deal of the harvest which was ongoing in the south of the country may have been destroyed completely," Peleman said.
Many of the rugged dirt roads that provide the only access to storm victims in Haiti's mountainous interior have been rendered impassible by the torrential rains from the hurricane, Peleman said.
In New York, U.N. officials said they had reports of at least 54 Haitians killed as a result of the storm. At least 11 people were reportedly killed in Cuba, where the storm damaged or destroyed 188,000 homes and inflicted severe damage on about 245,000 acres of the vital sugar crop in the eastern part of the island, a U.N. report estimated Wednesday.
The opposition Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation appealed to the government of President Raul Castro to allow foreign relief agencies to bring food and supplies to the stricken island.
An array of religious and nongovernmental organizations, including Catholic Relief Services and Outreach Aid to the Americas, announced relief missions to Cuba, according to InterAction, an alliance of U.S.-based agencies. The Russian Ministry for Emergency Situations dispatched three plane-loads of aid for Cuba on Thursday, the Itar-Tass news agency reported.
Storm-related deaths were also reported in Jamaica, the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic, with the United Nations reporting at least 71 killed across the Caribbean in Sandy's wake.