The OCHA Haiti Flooding Situation Report covering the period from June 6-7 does not paint a pretty picture. This grim report was to be anticipated given the lack of sanitation infrastructure and substantial reconstruction efforts in Haiti during the seventeen months since the January 2010 earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince and surrounding rural areas. Last week severe flooding engulfed parts of Haiti as a tropical wave produced heavy rainfall and mudslides in Port-au-Prince, causing the Artibonite River to breach its banks and consequently flood the Grande Saline commune in northwestern Haiti.
Just as Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer tricked the neighborhood boys into paying him to do his work, so have aid agencies funded by U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) tricked donors into paying for the whitewashing of Haiti. Instead of suffering punishment for his transgressions, Tom Sawyer got rich by convincing others that whitewashing his Aunt Polly’s rotting fence was glamorous work — so glamorous that they were willing to pay Tom for the opportunity to work, while Tom sat back and collected the spoils. Now Mother Nature and the dispassionate entity known as cholera are slowly exposing the rot and neglect that no amount of public relations, false reporting and outright lying can hide. The whitewash is flowing into rivers already contaminated with cholera, the rains are just beginning, and many of the non-profit organizations are gone.
OCHA reports that 28 people died, 6 have been injured and 6 are still missing in Haiti. The West department, including the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area, has the highest fatality rate with 22 deaths from just this one rain incident. Certainly, this is a troubling number, but the background is worse.
OCHA assessed 213 vulnerable relocation camps by telephone between June 6 and 7, and teams were sent to 91 of the camps by the International Organization of Migration (IOM). This is called ground-truthing. It is not theory, hypothesis or a numbers game. It is hard work and it is done on site. Ten camps were severely flooded, and 29 vulnerable camps have more than 1,000 “households,” meaning immediate and extended families. 200 tents were distributed to the 1,000 households, while “water canals near camps are blocked and need to be cleared to prevent further flooding and landslides,” OCHA says. Additional tents and tarps “are urgently needed.” Aquatabs, jerricans, rakes and wheelbarrows are the first line of defense, and camp residents do not have these items.
Latrines and showers are damaged, fecal matter is running in rivulets through the camps, and in the worst possible scenario, chorine levels in water distribution systems are running low or are non-existent. Due to a lack of latrines and showers in Grande Saline in the Artibonite department, the people are using water canals.
Last February, OCHA and local officials including the Mayor of Port de Paix warned of this scenario as relief agencies packed up their flags and tents and left the town with no backups for clean water or Cholera Treatment Centers (CTC).
OCHA supported Mayor M. Salvador Guillet on February 4, 20111, with the publication of its final Situation Report on cholera, which accused major NGOs of abandoning well chlorination projects.
Several partners are about to wind down their chlorination operations because of a lack of funding or to focus on longer-term strategies. MSF-Belgium and Oxfam-GB have announced they will stop on 1 March the chlorination of 11 wells in Port-au-Prince that provide water for approximately 374,500 people. These two NGOs intend to hand over those activities to DINEPA throughout the month of February. Oxfam GB will stop its WASH activities in temporary housing sites on 15 February and is defining its strategy for the next three years with a focus on Cap Haitien.
Now OCHA reports that the CTC of Baradères in the Nippes department has run out of money.
As a result, the 27 staff members have not been paid since February and are threatening to go on strike. Under-reporting of cholera cases in the South department remains an issue. Drouin UTC in Grande Saline commune has been cut off by flooding and can only provide medical assistance to cholera patients in the immediate vicinity.
Cholera is returning with the rains, after initially spreading throughout the water supply in Haiti after the United Nations (MINUSTAH) Nepalese Camp in Mirebalais contaminated the Artibonite river system by flushing cholera contaminated feces into the Meye River.
The sanitation conditions at the Mirebalais MINUSTAH camp were not sufficient to prevent fecal contamination of the Meye Tributary System of the Artibonite River. Water in the Meye Tributary System reaches the Artibonite River junction in less than 8 hours, and flows downstream in another 1-2 days to a dam and canal system widely used for irrigation throughout the Artibonite River Delta.
As Haiti Grassroots member, Jane Regan, suggested in an blog post published on the Huffington Post after the initial outbreak, “But despite the suffering, the deaths, the one million refugees living in tents, there is not much colère (French for ‘anger’) against cholera. (Both words are from the same root — the Greek kholḗ which means ‘bile.’)”
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