Tropical Storm Isaac is gaining strength as it heads directly toward Haiti. The storm is poised to hit Haiti Friday night. By the time it makes landfall, it is expected to be at hurricane strength.
This could spell disaster. There are nearly 400,000 Haitians still living in tent camps throughout the country. Needless to say, these are not the kinds of domiciles that can withstand the 12 inches of rain and “tree bending winds” that are expected to pound Hispaniola tonight. Save the Children warns, “If the forecasts are correct, Haiti could be on the cusp of another humanitarian crisis.”
Though there have been a few heavy storms and one hurricane to graze Haiti since the 2010 earthquake, the country has so far been spared a direct hit. One year ago this week, Hurricane Irene grazed Haiti. Though the storm did not directly pass over the country, but two people were killed in a flash flood and it caused massive destruction. The forecast for Isaac seems to be much worse, with the eye poised to travel directly over Haiti’s southern peninsula.
The most urgent priority is protecting the hundreds of thousands of families living in tent cities. The problem is, the country simply does not have the capacity to move every family into emergency shelters. They will have to simply wait out the storm. Beyond the immediate dangers Friday night, there is also real concern that the heavy rains may catalyze the spread of cholera, which is a waterborne illness. Infection rates and death rates have dropped sharply since the height of the outbreak, but the devastation that a hurricane brings could reverse this trend.
Here in the USA, Isaac has mostly been met with chortles (from Democrats) about how the storm may disrupt the Republican convention in Tampa, Florida next week. But this is a storm to be taken very seriously. It has all the markings of a an impending humanitarian catastrophe.