Translation and interpretive assistance in the field by Andre Paultre
On February 4, The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) distributed its final “situation report” on issues covering Haiti’s cholera epidemic. With the end of the rainy season, new cases of cholera seem to be stabilizing, but the overall toll is staggering–220, 784 cases and 4,334 deaths–since the outbreak began in October 2010. A total of 400,000 cases are predicted within the first twelve months of the epidemic. We are now in month five.
Most disturbing, OCHA reports that several non-governmental “charity” organizations (NGOs) are about to reduce their activities relating to clean water and sanitation “because of a lack of funding or to focus on longer term strategies.” The problem is that, once introduced into an ecosystem, the cholera bacterium will not go away, even if the relief organizations do so.
Cholera can exist in association with aquatic plants, microscopic animals, bivalves, water birds, and in sediment. These are some of the environmental reservoirs for cholera, where it can live over time or where humans can come into contact with it. Colonies of cholera flourish with weather conditions that cause algae blooms; and this is why you see peaks and valleys in the cycles of human infections. Cholera in Haiti is approaching its nadir, but is expected to peak once the rainy season begins.
Also, consider that OCHA reported that Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and OXFAM will stop chlorination of 11 wells in the Port-au-Prince area that provide safe water for 374,500 people. The plan is to hand these activities over to DINEPA (the Haitian government’s water and sanitation authority). DINEPA is planning to distribute 7.2 million chlorination tablets and has already done so to 302,700 households. Consider that a household is at least five people, do the math, and the supply won’t last long.
OCHA says the pumping of excrement from latrines in cholera treatment centers (CTCs) “remains a major problem nationwide and the situation is worsening in some areas.” When companies such as the privately owned firm, JEDCO, and the NGO Red Cross transport the waste, it is hauled to the Truttier waste disposal site, near the slum of Cite Soleil (out of sight out of mind), and inexplicably located on the Plaine Cul-de-Sac Aquifer.
The Haitian grassroots organization Ayiti Kale Je reports that Homero Silva of the Pan American Health Organization said “cholera bacteria can go down to the aquifer or out to the sea where it could survive for many years, creating an ongoing problem for Haiti.”
Here is a short video we made after spending several hours at the Truttier dump.
The aquifer below this mess supplies water to the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area.
In addition, OCHA says, OXFAM will stop its water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) programs in temporary housing sites and is defining “a new strategy” for the next three years. What will happen in the interim? Despite the billions in aid pledged to Haiti, most of the estimated 800,000 to 1.5 million IDPs are living in substandard conditions and rely upon local water sources, such as the Plaine Cul-de-Sac Aquifer.
And what about the rural areas that experienced no quake damage, but depend upon the rivers for water? In rural areas people continue to drink non-potable (contaminated) water from rivers, streams and fountains. There are no municipal water purification systems. People cannot boil water due to lack of charcoal or firewood. Haiti is almost completely deforested in some areas. OCHA says “Access to schools in rural and mountainous areas to conduct cholera prevention activities remains an issue.”
Cholera has been reported in every department (similar to US counties) in Haiti, and OCHA reports MSF plans to stop its water chlorination, “as well as its water distribution activities in Port-de-Paix…no one is taking over that responsibility.”