September 26, 2008 / 5:12 PM / 11 years ago

Haiti warns hurricanes set country back years

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Recent hurricanes have devastated Haiti, killing hundreds and destroying years of fragile economic progress in the hemisphere’s poorest nation, President Rene Preval said on Friday.

Around 700 people were killed when the Caribbean country was battered by tropical storms Fay and Hanna and hurricanes Gustav and Ike in just a few weeks.

“The damage caused by the passage of these four successive hurricanes in less than two months has set Haiti back several years,” Preval told the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

The U.N. says Haiti’s government and its mission are overwhelmed by the scale of the disaster in a country where many of 9 million people live on less than $2 a day.

The crisis threatens Preval’s efforts to strengthen democratic institutions and stability in Haiti, which has seen little but upheaval since it ended French rule more than 200 years ago.

Deadly riots sparked by soaring food prices struck the country in April and helped topple the government.

The U.N. has appealed for $108 million in aid for Haiti and Preval urged more longer-term reconstruction efforts beyond immediate food and disaster relief.

“We have to break this paradigm of charity in our approach to international cooperation... because charity has never helped any country to get out of underdevelopment,” he said.

The United Nations says Gonaives, a west coast port city of about 300,000, has been almost completely destroyed with all homes flooded by mud.

U.N. officials say about 800,000 people are in dire need of help. Storms have caused more than $200 million in damage to the farming sector and Haiti may have lost 3 to 4 percentage points of gross domestic product after the disaster.

Editing by Alan Elsner

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