Unless the underlying problems of deforestation and poverty are tackled in Haiti, tropical storms and hurricanes will continue to have a devastating effect, a Christian Relief Agency warned on Thursday.
According to Christian Aid, the impact of the tropical storm Jeanne - which has claimed 700 lives in Haiti - has been greatly exacerbated by the underlying vulnerability of the population. The storm created enormous mudslides, which swept away homes and isolated communities.
"Because the economic situation for many Haitians is so precarious, they rely on chopping down trees for fuel. It is still commonplace to use charcoal, which requires an enormous amount of wood. So in the poorest areas there has been widespread deforestation," said Judith Turbyne, Christian Aid's regional manager for Central America.
"Haiti has suffered a catalogue of disasters in recent years,” she added. “As well as being one the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, the north west of the country has suffered widespread crop failures for the past three years. There was a political crisis at the turn of the year, when former President Aristide was forced to flee following a violent up rising. And in May there were severe floods which left 2,000 dead or missing."
Speaking from the capital, Port-au-Prince, Helen Spraos, Christian Aid's field officer in Haiti, explained: "Extreme poverty forces people to migrate in search of work and many are living in makeshift shelters. Haiti is very mountainous and the most vulnerable tend to live on steep hillsides or in ravines."
Over the next few weeks the need for emergency aid will be acute. There is already a shortage of clean water because precarious drainage systems have been damaged.
Christian Aid, whose work is focused on long-term development, is working with partner organizations to shore up the rural economy and discourage migration. One project sells chicken and goats at low cost so that farmers can use them for breeding, consumption and selling. This improves both nutrition and cash flow in the household.
Another key aim of the program is to build up rural livelihoods so that people aren't driven from their land in search of work.
Several hurricanes have hit the Caribbean region in recent weeks, most notably Ivan and Frances. But even though Jeanne was downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm before it hit Haiti, the devastation it wrought was much greater than in Jamaica.