Port-au-Prince / AFP
Haiti faces a humanitarian crisis that requires a ‘massive response’ from the international community, the United Nations chief said, with at least 1.4 million people needing emergency aid following last week’s battering by Hurricane Matthew.
The storm left at least 372 dead in the impoverished Caribbean nation, with the toll likely to rise sharply as rescue workers reach previously inaccessible areas.
Matthew leveled homes, fouled water sources and killed livestock, with victims pleading for help to arrive quickly.
The United Nations has launched a $120 million flash appeal to cover Haiti’s needs for the next three months.
“A massive response is required,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters.
“Some towns and villages have been almost wiped off the map,” he said.
“These numbers and needs are growing as more affected areas are reached.”
After pummeling Haiti on October 4 as a monster Category 4 storm, packing winds of 145 miles per hour, Matthew slammed into the southeastern United States, where it killed at least 20 people.
Worst humanitarian crisis
In Haiti, more than 300 schools have been damaged, while crops and food reserves were destroyed, Ban said.
UN aid chief Stephen O’Brien said the hurricane had triggered the worst humanitarian crisis in the country since the 2010 earthquake.
The department of Grande Anse in Haiti’s southwest, which took a direct hit, was the most devastated area, with 198 dead, 97 injured and 99,400 people staying in temporary shelters.
More than 175,500 are in shelters elsewhere in the country.
Damage to roads and communications has hamstrung deliveries of supplies. “I understand of course the frustration,” Jean-Luc Poncelet, the country representative for the UN’s World Health Organization, said after arriving at the airport outside Jeremie, one of the worst-hit cities.
“When you have no means of communication, no radio, no telephone, no roads and even a helicopter can’t land — this is what explains the massive delay,” he said.
The UN’s World Food Programme tapped into food stocks previously set aside for schools to feed hundreds of desperate families, spokesman Alexis Masciarelli said.
Twenty-fix more tons had been moved to Jeremie for distribution, and more was on its way to Les Cayes, the other major city affected on the peninsula, he said.
American military helicopters were unloading boxes of supplies from the United States Agency for International Development to be stored by the UN in Jeremie before being taken to other parts of the south.
An official at the airport who declined to be identified said nearly 20 tons of supplies — tarpaulins, rice, cooking oil and hygiene kits — were being brought in. That added to 47 tons already flown in on US helicopters from the capital Port-au-Prince.
Honduras, which maintains a force of 60 troops in Haiti as part of a UN peacekeeping mission, was sending a planeload of aid on Tuesday, along with 50 military officers to assist the victims, President Juan Orlando Hernandez said.
But getting aid to Haitians now reduced to drinking unclean water and living in roofless houses will be challenging.
On a road crossing the mountainous center of the peninsula, some villagers blocked roads in an effort to stop aid convoys from passing through without delivering supplies.
Haiti is also grappling with a worsening cholera outbreak in the storm-hit areas.
Matthew came as Haitians were already struggling with the intestinal disease spread by contaminated food and water, with more than 500 new cases each week.
UN peacekeepers have been blamed for introducing the disease to Haiti, where it has killed 10,000 people since October 2010.
While some towns and villages reported an apparent spike in infections since the storm, Poncelet said “the number of cases of cholera that we have confirmed are low.”
He declined to give a number, but said there were “tens” of cases in one area of the peninsula.
While evaluation teams were working to get a precise picture of the health situation, medical supplies were being brought in, he said.
Mourad Wahba, the UN humanitarian coordinator in Haiti, urged aid organizations to focus on delivering supplies to smaller rural communities, where many families survive on subsistence farming and have had all their crops washed away.
If aid is only delivered to cities such as Jeremie and Les Cayes, villages will flock there for supplies and never leave, leading to overcrowding.
“We must think about developing a plan, to coordinate support and deliver it where it’s most needed and not where it’s easiest to access,” Wahba said.
WHO’s 1mn cholera vaccine doses
Geneva / AFP
The World Health Organization said on Tuesday it would send a million cholera vaccine doses to Haiti, which has seen cases of the disease surge since it was ravaged by Hurricane Matthew last week.
WHO cholera expert Dominique Legros said in Geneva there had already been “a sharp increase” in cases in the south of the country, with 148 cases detected in the Grande’Anse department and 53 more in the South department.
The potential for a reinvigorated cholera outbreak is especially alarming for Haiti, which has grappled with the disease since the aftermath of its catastrophic earthquake in 2010. Since then, around 10,000 people have died from the disease, and on average some 500 new cases have been reported every week over the past six years. New cases had already begun rising before the hurricane, with 29,000 reported since the beginning of the year, an average of nearly 800 a week, WHO said.
The hurricane, which fouled water sources, hit Haiti just as the country was approaching the period of the year when it generally counts most cholera cases, Legros said. Making matters worse, the storm damaged around a quarter of all health facilities in the south of the country. To try to halt the spread of the deadly disease, WHO has decided to send one million vaccine doses to Haiti for a large-scale immunisation campaign, he said.
Two doses of the vaccine are needed to offer full protection, but Legros said WHO and the Haitian government were considering a one-dose campaign in a bid to reach more people.
Legros explained that one dose of the vaccine had been shown to offer full protection for about six months, with the effect fully disappearing within about a year.
He said this should be “enough to cover the period most at risk.”
Before the hurricane, some 400,000 people had already received a double dose of the vaccine since 2013, he said.