Haiti Urgently Needs Hurricane Alert System: Scientists

By Dialogo
March 10, 2010

Haitians desperately need a new hurricane alert system because communications were largely destroyed by January's devastating earthquake, experts warned Monday. Scientists from 30 countries focused on how to improve meteorological services in Haiti to prevent further disasters as they began three days of meetings in Bermuda. "One of the areas they will be looking at will be better communications and dissemination possibilities," Robert Masters of the World Meteorological Organization told AFP by telephone as the hurricane committee convened. Masters said about 80 percent of Haitians would normally be informed of any imminent hurricane or storm threat by turning on their televisions or tuning in on their radios. "But now with the earthquake this was reduced to 20 percent because people don't have electricity, don't have television and radios," he said. "So it's important to find new ways to disseminate information to be sure people are warned in the face of severe weather." The scientists are expected to recommend, when the meeting wraps up on Wednesday, that governments providing aid to Haiti seek to create a storm alert system to ensure new disaster is averted. Haiti, which shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic is often hit by storms during the June to November hurricane season. The Western hemisphere's poorest nation, Haiti is also poorly equipped to deal with hurricanes because massive deforestation has left it with few moisture-absorbing tropical forests. International aid groups have for weeks warned about the onset of the Caribbean's rainy season, which begins in earnest late April, followed by the potentially disastrous hurricane season. Violent storms could turn fields where homeless Haitians are camping out into unsanitary pools of overflowing sewage and trigger mudslides and flooding that would threaten precarious post-quake settlements made of tents and flimsy plastic. In the 2008 hurricane season, Haiti was pounded by four storms that left more than 800,000 people homeless and devastated its agriculture. Last year, Haiti, the Caribbean, and the US mainland were spared any major storms during a relatively calm hurricane season. But the devastating earthquake that struck the country January 12 flattened most of the capital Port-au-Prince, killing more than 220,000 people and destroying half the nation's economy, according to government estimates. Another 1.3 million people have been left homeless since the quake.