Page last updated at 09:55 GMT, Friday, 13 March 2009

Haiti still struggles with hurricane mud

A UN Security Council delegation is visiting the Haitian city of Gonaives to observe reconstruction efforts following the devastation of Hurricane Hanna six months ago. The BBC's Laura Trevelyan visits the storm-ravaged city, still struggling to recover.

Laura Trevelyan tours areas of Haiti still devastated after the storms

Janet Eugene lost her house in Gonaives when the canals in the city overflowed, unable to cope with the flooding which swept through the city in the aftermath of Hurricane Hanna last year.

Wistfully, she showed me the exact spot where her three-bedroom home once stood. Now there is nothing but mud.

Janet has been sleeping in neighbours' houses ever since. She cannot rebuild her house because it is sure to flood again if there is another hurricane.

In front of the spot where Janet once lived, enormous diggers are scooping up the mud and dumping it into the back of trucks.

Mud is everywhere, some of it almost at the same level as the roofs of the houses which were underwater six months ago.

Few trees

Bakary Doumbia of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) is working to re-house people in Gonaives.

So far 5,000 people have been helped.


He shows me cars that are still stuck in the mud, and streets that are impassable because of the mud.

"The mud is an obstacle to rebuilding," he tells me. "Until the mud is gone, families cannot return and we cannot re-house them."

Degrace Nelson has a temporary home, which she shows me round. It is a wooden structure covered in tarpaulin. The floor is made of mud.

As we sit on her bed, she explains how worried she is by the prospect of the next hurricane season.

"I will escape to the mountains," she says.

But those mountains are part of the problem.

There are hardly any trees on the mountains, because they have been chopped down for charcoal.

So when the hurricane struck, the water flowed down the hills and there were not any trees to stop the mudslide.

Haiti was already vulnerable to storm damage because of its location in the Caribbean.

Deforestation and soil erosion have only made the situation worse.

Fragile stability

The World Food Programme (WFP) has been building terraces up in the mountains, to catch the water should there be another hurricane.

Gonaives in September 2008
Gonaives could face similar problems again in the future

Twelve thousand people have been working on the terraces, some paid in food.

But now the funding for that programme has stopped, and so has the work.

Jean-Pierre Mambounou of the WFP tells me: "Now we have stopped the work, the city is at risk. If we have another hurricane, we will be in trouble."

Haiti has suffered years of political instability, sparked off by the brutality of the Duvalier regimes.

Last year, there were riots over high food prices. And then came the four hurricanes and tropical storms.

This fragile country is on the brink.

In Gonaives, people are piecing together their lives, aware of how precarious their existence is.

Uncertainty about the future is a way of life here, Degrace Nelson tells me.

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