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Hurricane Georges thwarts hopes of economic recovery in much of the Caribbean

In only four days, hurricane "Georges" swept away any chances of economic recovery in several of the small island states of the Caribbean, ravaged last year by the weather phenonemon El Niño. Drought induced by El Niño greatly reduced 1997-98 crop yields throughout the region, and any hopes for a recovery this year have been thwarted by Georges' brief but devastating rampage, according to a recently released FAO report.

Between 20 and 25 September, the hurricane hit most island states in the region with torrential rains, widespread flooding and high-force winds. Housing and infrastructure sustained extensive damage and thousands of people were left homeless and without drinkable water for days.

Dominican Republic and Haiti hardest hit
The Dominican Republic and Haiti were hardest hit, according to the Special Alert, issued by FAO's Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS). In the areas struck by the hurricane as much as 90 percent of the cropped area has reportedly been destroyed in both countries. Cuba also sustained considerable crop losses and physical damage. The islands of St Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica and Puerto Rico were less affected.

In the Dominican Republic, a significant number of people were killed and more than 100 000 were left without homes. Roads and bridges in some areas were swept away by the floods and public buildings collapsed under the force of the winds and rains. Some of the affected areas are among the main crop growing areas in the country. "Chances of recovering from the effects of the 1997 drought have vanished," according to the Special Alert. Official reports said the storm had severely damaged 190 000 hectares planted with foodcrops, including main staples rice, plantains, bananas and roots. The important foreign-exchange earning tobacco and sugar cane plantations also sustained extensive damage. Ninety percent of the country's sugar plantations reported serious damage. The country's critical tourist industry was also hurt. A detailed assessment of damage incurred to all sectors is being undertaken by international agencies in close collaboration with the government.

In Haiti, Georges wreaked havoc across most of the country. Severe rains, flooding and mudslides were reported in mountainous zones and in the poor settlements on the hillsides near Port-au-Prince. Early reports indicate that current sorghum and millet crops have been virtually destroyed, and approximately 80 percent of the important banana plantations in the southwest of the country were wiped out. "Before the hurricane struck the country was expected to recover from the 1997 drought, and normal crop production was anticipated," said the report. Now food assistance will need to increase to compensate for the serious foodcrop losses caused by the hurricane.

Cuba's agricultural sector suffers further blow
Cuba also sustained heavy losses. Torrential rains and flooding in late September were especially devastating in eastern parts of the island, which had suffered extreme El Niño-induced drought conditions earlier in the year, dealing a further blow to the vulnerable agricultural sector. The economically vital sugar cane crop, which in 1997/98 had suffered its lowest output in the last 50 years, was again badly affected. Other important crops, including cocoa and plantains, a basic staple in the population's diet, were severely damaged. One of the country's main plantain plantations reported potential losses of up to 70 percent.

The hurricane has compounded existing food supply problems. An emergency appeal for 34 000 tonnes of relief food to assist some 615 000 persons, mostly nursing mothers, schoolchildren and drought victims in the eastern provinces, had been launched in early September before the hurricane struck. A United Nations team, in collaboration with the government, is now assessing additional assistance required to cope with the effects of Georges.

Go to Special Alert

22 October 1998

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