Still struggling to overcome the effects of the devastating 2010 earthquake, the country of Haiti was hit hard by Hurricane Matthew this week, displacing thousands of people, killing nearly 300, and threatening an increase in cholera and other diseases.
“People are very desperate. They’ve lost the very few belongings they had and their homes, but they put a lot of hope on receiving some aid from the international community right now,” said Kathrin Jewert, program coordinator in Haiti for Malteser International.
The Category 4 hurricane slashed through Haiti early Tuesday morning, unleashing 145 MPH winds and nearly 40 inches of rain in the already impoverished and vulnerable country. Officials reported that more than 1800 homes had been destroyed.
Based in Port-au-Prince, Jewert has been assessing the post-hurricane situation, particularly in Cite Soleil, a very depressed section of the capital.
“In Cite Soleil, which is one of the poorest places in the Western Hemisphere, the floods have caused toxic sewage canals to overflow,” she said. “There is garbage and human waste everywhere on the streets and in living quarters and in the shanty homes that are still there. Others homes have been completely washed away.”
The sanitary and water supply systems in Cite Soleil were already lacking before the storm, she said, but are now even more limited. Household latrines and community latrines have been destroyed. Gardens and farms have been completely washed away, further reducing what little food there was. Residents were already very malnourished.
Jean-Claude Fignole, a program manager in Haiti for international charity Oxfam, told the New York Times that the storm hit Haiti just as farmers in the south were about to harvest plantains, a staple in their subsistence diet. “There will be real hunger in the weeks ahead,” he said.
Perhaps even worse is the fact that there is very little fresh water, Jewert said. “People are taking water from the wells and from the floods, which increases the danger of cholera.” In addition, there are mosquitoes everywhere, and no mosquito nets, so the danger of malaria and dengue is increasing.
Once assessments have been completed, Malteser, which is the relief agency of the Order of Malta, can distribute hygiene kits, medications, nutrition, and staples such rice, oil, salt, and beans. Along with the four partner organizations it works with, it can help rebuild latrines and the water infrastructure and help with cleanup.
Meanwhile, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) staff in Les Cayes, Haiti, are reporting flooding from heavy rains and trees knocked down by strong winds as Hurricane Matthew made landfall.
“One of the biggest problems is that the infrastructure is not able to handle so much rain in low-lying area around Les Cayes,” said Chris Bessey, CRS’ country representative based in Port-au-Prince. “We’ll have to wait and see how bad the damage is, but flooding is a big concern.”
The Navy Times reported that the Haitian government requested U.S. aid as the hurricane approached the island, according to a USAID spokesman:
The carrier George Washington and the amphibious transport dock Mesa Verde put to sea Tuesday with Navy and Marine aircraft aboard and are headed to the Caribbean to provide relief from the storm if needed….
The hospital ship Comfort is also gearing up for the major operation, but has not yet left port. The ships have not been issued any official orders tied to Haiti’s request for assistance, said Cmdr. Dave Hecht, spokesman for the Naval Air Forces, Atlantic.
“We’ve learned from experience that it’s best to load up and head to sea in advance of the storm so we are ready if needed,” Hecht said. “The George Washington has been on alert for roughly the past 48 hours, he said. “She’ll go out enough to be clear of the storm and wait to see what Mother Nature does.”