PORT-AU-PRINCE- Floods triggered by torrential rains have killed at least 11 people in Haiti, as the troubled Caribbean nation struggles to recover from last year’s disasters, officials said last week.
Several hundred homes have been damaged or destroyed and more than 600 families have been left homeless from flooding during the past three days, according to official reports.
“The 11 victims we counted is the death toll we have registered since last night,” Pierre-Louis Pinchinat, assistant director of the civil protection office, said. “But we fear the death toll may be a little higher since the rain continued to fall until today in several parts of the country.”
Most of the victims were killed while crossing rivers or when their flimsy homes collapsed, officials said. Five died in the northern Artibonite area, three in the Central Plateau, two in the South and one in the Grande-Anse area.
Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, is vulnerable to floods due to massive deforestation, poor drainage in cities and because many shanty towns were built near river beds.
About 800 people were killed last year by a succession of storms and hurricanes. The scars of those storms are still visible in the hardest-hit city, Gonaives.
Many Haitians fear they could face new destruction during the hurricane season that begins on June 1. Haitian government agencies have stepped up efforts to set up shelters.
Meanwhile, Former Cuban president Fidel Castro predicts that Bill Clinton won’t be able to help Haiti as the U.N.’s special envoy to the struggling country.
The ailing, 82-year-old Castro says Haiti is a victim of capitalism and needs more than philanthropic efforts from a single institution.
He writes in an essay published Monday in state media that rich nations never give Haiti the kind of help it really needs.
Castro said Haiti benefits more from different forms of aid. He singled out Havana’s aid programs, such as the long-term assignment of Cuban doctors, other health care workers and literacy campaigns in impoverished Haiti.
The United Nations named Clinton to the post two weeks ago.
Haitian officials however hailed the decision. Praising Clinton as a “great friend of Haiti,” Haitian Prime Minister Michele Pierre-Louis told Reuters he was instrumental in helping her government win $324 million in new aid commitments at an April donors’ conference in Washington.
“We will work with him to better make the case of Haiti to the international community and to build a new, solid and efficient partnership to improve the Haitian people’s living conditions,” Pierre-Louis said.
Diplomats have said Clinton’s appointment could attract investment to Haiti and help stabilize the country. Riots sparked by rocketing food prices caused the government’s ouster last year. The United Nations has 9,000 peacekeeping troops and police deployed in Haiti to help maintain stability.
The U.N says low labor costs, proximity to the United States and Canada, and the duty-free access it will enjoy in the U.S. market for the next nine years could underpin Haiti’s future economic growth.
On Haiti’s streets, expectations were high that Clinton’s appointment would increase international support and resources to raise living standards.
“I think with his influence he can help improve things here,” said 37-year-old Joseph Francois, a school teacher.
The former president is married to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Some saw Haiti’s development problems as so huge, they doubted his intervention could bring immediate improvement.
“There is no doubt Bill Clinton loves Haiti and we love him too,” 25-year-old university student Mirlande Jeannot said. “But it would be very unrealistic to believe that things would significantly change here any time soon because of Clinton’s new function. But I think he will do what he can.”