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Many Haitians thought life in their impoverished country could get no worse, but then Hurricane Georges tore through and devastated the harvest that had been the small hope left for its moribund economy, reports CANA-Reuters (October 7, 1998): . "With agricultural production of the country destroyed more than 60%, the perspective is very somber," Haitian Foreign Minister Fritz Longchamp said in a speech to the United Nations shortly after Georges' onslaught on September 23. He estimated that Georges had caused US$200 million in damages in Haiti. At least 199 deaths have been attributed to Georges, mostly due to the storm's torrential rains; . In addition to the deaths, 47 of the country's 7 million people were listed as missing and more than 177,000 were reported to be homeless. By far the worst-hit spot in Haiti discovered so far was Fonds-Verrettes, a village east of Port-au-Prince near its border with the Dominican Republic. Relief workers said at least 102 of the deaths in Haiti occurred in Fonds-Verrettes, which was built in a dry riverbed and completely destroyed by flooding so serious it sent cadavers washing over the border; . Decimated agriculture comes on top of the nation's other woes. Haiti has been without a prime minister for 16 months because of political bickering, which has also prevented the receipt of millions in international aid. In a nation with an illiteracy rate estimated at 70%, many children are not attending school because parents can't afford basic learning materials; . But storm damage to crops and livestock is the immediate concern. Haiti's Civil Protection Directorate, the Government agency handling hurricane relief, has estimated that crop damage could be an even more severe 80%, in a country where agriculture contributes more than one-third of the gross domestic production; . The Artibonite Valley in central Haiti, the nation's most productive rice-growing area, was especially hard-hit. "Georges came at the end of a harvest so stocks have been lost, seedlings lost, animals that provide back up to the farmers' economy have been destroyed," says Michael Azefor, the World Bank's representative in Haiti; . At least 36,000 cattle drowned because of the storm. According to the World Bank, 80% of Haiti's rural population was living in poverty before Georges. The country's overall per capita income is US$250, the lowest in the western hemisphere and one of the lowest in the world; . Even before Georges, Haiti's economy had been stumbling badly. Prime Minister Rosny Smarth resigned in June 1997 during a dispute between political parties over senatorial elections in April 1997. A runoff vote from that election still has not been held. A budget has not been passed since 1996. Haitians and international officials said they hoped the devastation left by Georges would finally draw together feuding politicians and force them to focus on the country's problems.
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Publication:Caribbean Update
Date:Nov 1, 1998

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