Hurricane Matthew in Haiti: “A cholera epidemic is the first thing to avoid”

Published on Wednesday 5 October 2016

Wangcos Laurore is the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Program Manager on our cholera response since 2011. Originally from the Nippes area of southern Haiti, he fears the consequences of hurricane Matthew could be dreadful for populations who have not completely recovered from the 2010 earthquake.

Hurricane Matthew, which has hit southern Haiti hard in the last 48 hours, could have caused disastrous damage. The consequences of the 2010 earthquake, which are not completely resorbed, could be worsened in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. “The Western department (where the capital Port-au-Prince is located) was the hardest hit area b the earthquake. It’s also the department most vulnerable to cholera outbreaks,” Wangcos explains. “Thankfully, Port-au-Prince was not affected by the strong winds, but ‘only’ by heavy rain. Unfortunately, cholera is endemic in the area. An outbreak is highly possible is nothing is done. Many people are still vulnerable. Some infrastructure and houses have not been rebuilt, 6 years after the earthquake, exposing the people to risks such as flooding. There are still 55,000 people displaced who still live in tents. If there had been strong winds, Port-au-Prince would have been a disaster zone. Areas such as Cité Soleil, where SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL acted within a few hours, are under water. The people there are homeless and vulnerable to waterborne diseases.”

Hati Matthew Reuters Grand

The three areas most affected are the South, Nippes and Grande Anse

“Towns in these areas are different. Some are on the coast, others like Petite Rivière de Nippes are in a basin, below the sea level, and are therefore highly vulnerable to floods. Others are built on very flat and stretched lands (such as Fonds-des-Nègres) and cannot resist the heavy rains. Even during seasonal rains, these towns are flooded. So the hurricane can only have had disastrous consequences. It’s still difficult to know the full extent of the damage because these isolated areas are cut off from the rest of the country in the aftermath of the hurricane.”

Working in Grande Anse would require doubling our actions and our investment in logistics

“In Grande Anse, towns such as Jeremie, Pistel or Dame Marie, are also basin towns and are vulnerable to heavy rains. Today, they must be devastated. The problem is that the area is hardly accessible in normal times and there are few relief agencies there. Working in Grande Anse would require we double our means and our investment in logistics. Helping populations in need in such a hard hit area will be difficult anyway. Roads are barely in use and can only have been strongly damaged. Needs in terms of shelter, food and water will soon be felt, though we don’t know yet the exact extent of the damage.

These three areas are highly prone to cholera outbreaks. That would be the major risk and the first thing to avoid.”

Photo credit: © Carlos Garcia Rawlins / Reuters

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