UN pro­vides Cuba with food aid after Irma rips up coast

Stabroek News Sunday - - REGIONAL NEWS -

HA­VANA (Reuters) - The United Na­tions’ World Food Pro­gramme (WFP) said on Satur­day it was launch­ing a $5.7 mil­lion op­er­a­tion in Cuba to help feed nearly 700,000 people in ar­eas most af­fected by Hur­ri­cane Irma.

The mon­ster storm ripped last week­end along the length of the north­ern coast­line of the Caribbean’s largest is­land, tear­ing off roofs, wreck­ing the power grid and dam­ag­ing crops.

“This hur­ri­cane just went down the en­tire coast­line, the vol­ume of im­pact is just un­prece­dented,” WFP Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor David Beasley said dur­ing a visit to Ha­vana, after meet­ing with Cuban Vice Pres­i­dent Miguel Di­azCanel.

The WFP al­ready had more than 1,600 tonnes of food pre-po­si­tioned around Cuba avail­able to dis­trib­ute and had funds to buy more. It would start by dis­tribut­ing for free ra­tions of rice and beans in the most vul­ner­a­ble ar­eas.

Irma’s im­pact on food avail­abil­ity in the na­tion of 11 mil­lion in­hab­i­tants may be both short and medium-term, Beasley said.

“We are talk­ing about 60,000 hectares of agri­cul­tural land that have been dra­mat­i­cally im­pacted, ba­nana trees, citrus, rice maize, ev­ery­thing,” Beasley said.

Cuba would need to as­sess the soil’s salin­ity to as­cer­tain how that would af­fect the next plant­ing sea­son, he said.

In the light of cli­mate change, Irma could be a “sign of more things to come”, Beasley warned.

“Fifty to forty years ago, the hur­ri­canes were less fre­quent, and less se­vere,” he said, adding that WFP was work­ing with the Cuban lead­er­ship to pre­pare for such change.

At the height of its strength, Irma ranked as one of the most pow­er­ful At­lantic storms in a cen­tury and was the first Cat­e­gory 5 hur­ri­cane to make land­fall in Cuba since 1932.

“It’s times like this when we all lay aside our po­lit­i­cal dif­fer­ences and come to­gether for the com­mon good,” said Beasley, for­mer gov­er­nor of South Carolina in the United States, Cuba’s old Cold War foe.

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