Pope Directs Aid to Haiti After Jeanne

VATICAN CITY — Pope John Paul II dedicated $100,000 to fund relief efforts in flood-stricken Haiti.

Through the Vatican's charity arm, Cor Unum, the Pope earmarked the money to help Caritas Haiti purchase drinking water, food and medicine after the string of powerful tropical storms and hurricanes that recently hit the Caribbean.

The Holy Father's gift was announced by the Vatican Sept. 27 after Caritas Internationalis launched a major appeal for funding relief efforts in Haiti. Caritas is seeking $900,000 in funding and donations to provide supplies to tens of thousands of people left homeless by Jeanne, then a tropical storm. Mudslides triggered by heavy flooding killed more than 1,600 people and injured 100,000 more in Haiti after the storm hit the island in mid-September. At least another 1,000 people are reportedly still missing and feared dead.

“The hardest-hit region is the city of Gonaives and the surrounding area…. The damage was catastrophic for residents, all of whose homes and buildings were flooded, some beyond repair,” the Caritas appeal said.

The United Nations World Food Program estimated some 175,000 people in Haiti have been left without food, water and electricity.

Caritas said the emergency funding would supply kitchen utensils, sleeping bags, tents, medicine, chlorine and clean drinking water to 2,000 families in three different parts of Haiti. A Caritas emergency response team also has been dispatched to help local Caritas officials assess further needs.

Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops’ international relief and development agency, has provided $500,000 to purchase food and health and hygiene supplies, said Sheyla Biamby, the agency's spokeswoman in Haiti. In a telephone interview, Biamby told Catholic News Service that security was a major issue in Gonaives, with aid trucks being looted before reaching the poor.

Water and hunger also were issues as a result of the lack of security and poor condition of the roads. Most of Gonaives remained under three feet of water, she said Sept. 27.

About 1,000 Haitians fled to the cathedral in Gonaives, 400 to the home of Bishop Yves-Marie Pean of Gonaives and another 300 to the Caritas compound in Dolan, outside Gonaives, she said.

Though not as powerful as other hurricanes and tropical storms this year, Jeanne has been the deadliest and is considered to be the worst tropical storm to have swept across the Caribbean in more than a decade.

Haiti has been especially hard hit this year; in May, floods killed more than 1,000 people and destroyed many towns and villages. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere; 80% of the nation's people live below the poverty line.

Recent hurricanes and tropical storms caused extensive property damage in the United States, but without the loss of life caused in Haiti, noted the head of the U.S. bishops’ international policy committee.

“Hurricane Ivan did great damage in my Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee, as in other parts of this country, but nothing can compare to the devastation and loss of life suffered by the people of Gonaives,” Florida Bishop John Ricard said in a letter to Archbishop Hubert Constant of Cap Haitien, president of the Haitian bishops’ conference.

Bishop Ricard noted that while aid agencies, such as Caritas and the U.S. bishops’ Catholic Relief Services, have moved quickly in responding to the Haitian disaster, more aid was needed.

The bishop said it was essential “that neighboring countries, and especially the United States, urgently provide the financial and material resources required at this time.” He added, “We call on our government to go well beyond the limited aid thus far announced.”

Stephen Steele in Washington contributed to this story.