Hurricane Matthew damages in Haiti tally nearly $2 bn

AFP , Saturday 29 Oct 2016

Hurricane Matthew's devastating passage over southern Haiti on October 4 caused nearly $2 billion in damages, Haitian authorities announced Friday.

Studies by the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) put the estimated cost of damage and economic losses at 124 billion Haitian gourdes ($1.89 billion), officials with the Ministry of Economy and Finance told a news conference.

The storm, which killed 546 people according to official figures, battered an already fragile economy -- one of the poorest in the world -- with losses representing roughly one-fifth of the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the officials said.

The southern region of Haiti, considered the country's breadbasket, was particularly hard hit by winds of 150 miles per hour (250 kilometers per hour) and torrential rains.

The agricultural sector alone suffered losses estimated at nearly $600 million. And more than 175,000 people lost their homes, with those losses also estimated at close to $600 million, economists say.

The devastation comes as the country is in the midst of an electoral crisis.

The first round of presidential elections in 2015 had been canceled because of massive fraud and rescheduled for October 9 of this year.

But the hurricane's arrival forced a new postponement, with the successive rounds now set for November 20 and January 29, 2017.

The biggest challenge for election officials will be to find suitable voting sites: more than 500 schools -- traditionally used on election day -- were damaged or destroyed.

Meanwhile, Haiti's economic minister denounced misuse of humanitarian aid, sometimes for political purposes.

"We're taking every possible measure to change that," said the minister, Yves Romain Bastien.

But nearly a month after the hurricane, anger is mounting over the slow arrival of aid.

An adolescent was killed and three people wounded Tuesday in a small southwestern town, Dame-Marie, when fighting erupted as food was being distributed.

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