FAUCHÉ, Haiti — A woman who lost just about everything now gives her children coffee for meals because it quiets their stomachs a bit. Another despondent mother relives the awful moment when her 18-month-old baby was swept from her arms by a flash flood. The bodies of a family of five killed in a mudslide still sit in a morgue unclaimed.
Haitians, who know well the death and despair natural disasters can cause, suffered mightily from Hurricane Sandy, which bashed the country’s rural areas and killed at least 54 people.
Three weeks after the hurricane’s deluge, Haiti, still struggling to recover from the earthquake in January 2010, is facing its biggest blow to reconstruction and slipping deeper into crisis, United Nations and government officials say, with hundreds of thousands of others at risk of hunger or malnutrition.
All around this hamlet and others nearby, the men and women who farmed bananas, plantains, sugar cane, beans and breadfruit stare at fields swept of trees, still flooded or coated with river muck that will probably kill off whatever plants are left. They had little, have endured much, and now need more. Hardened by past disasters, they still fear the days and weeks ahead.
“I do not know where we will find money for food and school now,” said Olibrun Hilaire, 61, surveying his wrecked plantain and sugar cane farm in Petit-Goâve that supported his family of 10 children and grandchildren.
As if the quake were not enough, Haiti is now suffering the combined onslaught of storms and, before that, drought, imperiling its food supply, causing $254 million in agricultural losses and throwing 1.6 million people — about 16 percent of the population — into dire straits.
Tropical Storm Isaac in August destroyed farms in the north, preceded by a spring drought that devastated farms there. Then came Hurricane Sandy, which passed west of Hispaniola and over Jamaica but was large enough to send 20 inches of rain over southern Haiti.
Last week, as the government and the United Nations took stock of the storm and grappled with flooding in the north from a fresh cloudburst that left 10 people dead, they issued an emergency appeal for $39 million in humanitarian aid to a world weary of its recurrent disasters. United Nations officials said they had received pledges for about $8 million, and the Haitian government said it was in talks with donors to raise at least half the requested amount.
“This is a major blow to Haiti’s reconstruction efforts, making life for most vulnerable Haitians even more precarious,” said the United Nations humanitarian coordinator in Haiti, Nigel Fisher. “International partners’ ability to respond has been reduced by dwindling donor support,” he added.
The recent storms have damaged or destroyed 61 cholera treatment centers, leading to fears that there may be fresh outbreaks of an epidemic that has already killed more than 7,500 people since 2010.
The storm’s rare direct strike on the New York metropolitan area was devastating, but the heartache here, too, is wrenching and the recovery years off, if it happens at all.