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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Haïti. « Les sinistrés sont à cran, ils ont faim et soif »

by Cathy Ceïbe

Haiti: "The victims of the disaster are on edge, they are hungry and thirsty" 

Translated Thursday 27 October 2016, by Claire Shires

Emergency: A joint mission of the Secours populaire francais (French Popular Relief) and the Pompiers de l’urgence internationale (International Emergency Firefighters) has made their way through to Jérémie, a town hit by hurricane Matthew. More than ten days after the passae of the storm, the need for aid is still most urgent.

“It will take months, if not years, to rebuild.” The first testimony from the fire rescue worker Dominique Lissandre when he arrived in the town of Jérémie is one of the most worrying. After working at the bedsides of disaster victims in Jacmel, the joint mission between the French Popular Relief and the International Emergency Firefighters had to battle their way to reach this town at the south of Haiti, which was hit hard by hurricane Matthew. “Two roads only are barely open, and many places are still inaccessible,” stated the director of the mission, leading us to fear that the final toll may be much worse.

Six years after the devastating earthquake that caused more than 230,000 deaths and affected 1.3 million people, the already decimated populations have found themselves once again in a state of utter destitution. The Haitian authorities are announcing estimations that remain provisional and incomplete: 473 deaths, 75 disappearances, 339 injured. More than 175,500 people are without a roof over their heads, and are forced to live in makeshift shelters. Nearly 19% of the population has been affected by the hurricane. Important buildings such as the hospitals have been heavily damaged in the southern part of the country and nearly 300 schools have been destroyed. Another very worrying figure: the Ministry of the Interior and of Territorial Collectivities (MICT) estimates that 1.4 million Haitians need emergency humanitarian aid. Faced with this still provisional assessment of the situation, the secretary general of the UN, Ban Ki-Moon, asked on Monday for a fund of 120 million dollars to aid the disaster victims.

In Jérémie, the picture is bleak. “The roofs have flown off the houses. The only buildings still standing are those made of concrete” explains Dominique Lissandre. More than ten days after the hurricane, “Humanitarian aid is being put into action, bit by bit by bit, but organisation takes time” he continues. The lack of logistics and infrastructure makes the task more complicated, preventing aid from reaching the most isolated regions. There is urgency, nevertheless. “Tensions are many, but they have gone down a notch. The people are on edge because they are hungry and thirsty” states the French firefighter. In the most critical zones, and particularly in areas surrounding the urban centres, 70% of the population were already poverty-stricken before the event. The floods, water stagnation, but mainly the unsuitability of drinking water sources, may cause fresh outbreaks of malaria and cholera. Cholera has already caused more than 9,300 deaths since October 2010 according to the Pan-American Health Organisation, which recorded nearly 790,000 cases. The World Health Organisation announced that it was sending one million doses of vaccine, while the pandemic has once again hit the region of Grand’Anse. “The access to clean drinking water is one of the problems” confirmed Dominique Lissandre, who, together with three other members of the mission, visited a refugee camp in the centre of Jérémie to evaluate their needs. In these areas devoted to agriculture, the destruction of the plantations leads one to believe that the worst is yet to come for months ahead, while a rise in prices for essential items is already evident. The UN Humanitarian Aid co-ordinator, Mourad Wahba, is clear-cut, “Haiti is facing one of the worst humanitarian disasters since 2010”.

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