AID agencies and UN officials are preparing for a cholera outbreak in Haiti as the island nation continues to recover from Hurricane Matthew (News, 7 October). Official estimates of the fatalities vary from about 500 to more than 1000. The worst-affected area is the Grand’Anse district on the south-western tip of the island, which was battered by 145mph winds last Wednesday.
Many residents were living in tents and other flimsy structures because the country had not recovered from the devastating 2010 earthquake. Communications and transport infrastructure were already poor before Hurricane Matthew bought down phone lines and destroyed a vital bridge. Officials say that other roads are impassable.
”I am worried that if it is not controlled as soon as possible, cholera will be the real disaster,” Christian Aid’s country manager for Haiti, Prospery Raymond, said. “There is a risk that more people could die from the disease than from the hurricane.”
The World Health Organization is sending one million doses of cholera vaccines to Haiti, but the risk remains high.
”There is a lot of water around, but it is not drinkable because animals have died in it,” Mr Raymond said. “The risk of contamination is really high. We need to help families get clean drinking water.”
Christian Aid is one of a number of UK-based agencies that have launched emergency appeals for Haiti, alongside organisations including Tearfund and World Vision. But the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), which co-ordinates major humanitarian appeals by British aid agencies, said on Tuesday night that it had no plans to launch an appeal. A DEC appeal would be guaranteed free coverage on broadcast media and in newspapers.
”DEC member agencies are on the ground delivering food, water, and shelter supplies, as well as hygiene kits and water-purification tablets, in an urgent effort to prevent the spread of cholera,” the DEC said in a statement. “Some of the worst-hit parts of the country can still only be reached by air or sea, but many of our agencies had already pre-positioned stock in the affected area, while additional aid such as shelter and lifesaving water filters arrived in Haiti over the weekend.
”The DEC is monitoring the situation closely, regularly reviewing it against our appeal criteria, but at this stage we are not launching an appeal.”
Tearfund’s country representative, Jean-Claude Cerin, described Hurricane Matthew as “the worst . . . in Haiti for over half a century”.
”It’s been devastating for thousands of Haiti’s very poorest,” he said. “The nation is still vulnerable after the major earthquakes of 2010, and this has come as a terrible blow to the people there.”
The diocese of Haiti is part of the Episcopal Church in the United States. Its in-house aid agency, Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD), said that it was providing “technical assistance to local partners in the areas affected by Hurricane Matthew”.
”Due to the power outages and communications challenges in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, information about the scale of the storm’s impact is coming in slowly,” ERD’s senior vice-president for programmes, Abagail Nelson, said. “From what we are seeing so far, the damage is extensive in a number of areas, and it will take a long time — even years — for many of these places to recover.”
The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Most Revd Michael Curry, called on its members to pray. “Prayer matters,” he said. “All who because of Hurricane Matthew have lost their lives, who have lost their loved ones, their homes, or who have been hurt, need our prayers now. . . God, please be with those who have been harmed by this hurricane. And help us to help them, our brothers and sisters.”
While Haiti and other Caribbean nations bore the brunt of Hurricane Matthew, the south-eastern United States also felt its force. The number of dead in the US had risen to 24 by Wednesday morning, and officials were warning that this could rise — especially as local residents were ignoring safety warnings.
Speaking to The New York Times, the Governor of North Carolina, Pat McCrory, urged residents to listen to instructions from emergency respondents.
”If we say ‘The water’s coming,’ and we say ‘Do not drive through that water,’ we mean it,” he said. “Do not go through water. We’ve had over ten people killed as a result of that. We are not messing around, and we do not want to put people at risk to save you once you’ve made that decision. Too many people have died, and we don’t want any more to die.”
About 50 people were refusing to leave an area of Moore County, despite warnings that a dam was at risk of failing — a situation that Mr McCrory described as “unacceptable”. He told them: “Get out. Get out now.”
President Obama has deployed federal emergency aid to the affected areas, and urged Americans to focus on the needs of Haiti.
”Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world [and] is already suffering from a range of previous disasters,” he said. “It has been hit really hard by this storm, and we anticipate that they are going to need substantial help. There may be similar needs in places like the Bahamas.”
He asked people to “help make life a little bit easier for people who didn’t have a lot to begin with, and who are now really getting hammered.”