Hurricane Matthew: Haiti in National Mourning

Haiti is beginning three days of national mourning for the hundreds of victims of Hurricane Matthew, amid a developing humanitarian crisis.

Almost 900 people died when the storm battered Haiti, and with outbreaks of cholera in the aftermath resulting from flood water mixing with sewage, at least another 13 have now also lost their lives. Cholera causes severe diarrhea and can kill within hours if untreated. Around 60 more have contracted the disease, the Head of the Haitian Health Ministry’s Cholera Programme said. Cholera was accidentally introduced to Haiti by United Nations peacekeepers after the 2010 earthquake and has since infected hundreds of thousands of people and killed more than 9,000 of them.

Matthew rampaged through Haiti’s western peninsula with 145mph (233km/h) winds and torrential rain. At least three million inhabitants have been ordered to evacuate their homes and some 61,500 people remain in shelters making it a Category Four hurricane, according to officials who said that the storm had hit fragile coastal villages, some of which were only now being contacted. The government estimates that around 350,000 people need aid.

Thousands of homes have been destroyed, rural clinics have been inundated with patients suffering injuries including broken bones. Communication with the areas worst affected has been hampered by downed power lines and a lack of phone coverage and with power lines down in Haiti, people were cut off from the news for days since the storm struck and had yet to hear that a presidential election due to take place this weekend had been postponed.

Over 10 hours, the hurricane-force wind blasts and heavy rain leveled all the crops in the community’s fields, though they had promising lean months ahead. Up to 80% of crops have been lost in some areas, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and subsequently food is scarce across Haiti as well as the loss of livestock which has also been extreme.

While the capital and biggest city, Port-au-Prince, was largely spared (although main road connecting the capital, Port-au-Prince, to the southern coast has been destroyed), the south suffered devastation. Jeremie, a town of 30,000 people, was left inaccessible until recently and as aid began trickling into the area, locals said that the international response was not fast enough, and that people could soon start dying of hunger. One of Haiti’s most acutely affected regions centres on the picturesque beach town of Port-Salut, on the south-western peninsula of the country. At least three towns in the hills and coast of Haiti’s fertile western tip reported dozens of people killed. These included the farming village of Chantal, where the mayor reported that 90 people had died, mostly when trees crushed houses. An additional 20 have been reported missing. Officials are also especially concerned about Grand-Anse, located on the northern tip of the southwest peninsula, where they believe the death toll and damage is highest.

As the extent of the damage became clear, several countries pledged aid to Haiti as the death toll mounted. The US announced it was sending a Navy ship, the USS Mesa Verde, with 300 Marines to join 250 personnel and nine helicopters already deployed in Haiti. The ship carries Marine teams that specialise in medical-emergency assistance and reconstruction with food, medicines, baby formula, nappies and first aid supplies, as well as three transport helicopters. There is a surgical team on board and two operating theatres and it can produce 72,000 gallons of fresh portable water each day. It also has a bulldozer on board. Venezuela, in an economic crisis itself, swiftly sent three loads of relief supplies and food. They included water, medicine, tents, mattresses, blankets and machinery to move rubble, its Interior Minister Nestor Reverol said. France is sending 60 troops and 32 tonnes of humanitarian aid and water purification equipment whilst Britain is giving £5m to help the initial relief effort.

World Vision, which managed to get staff out to remote areas by helicopter said sanitation, food and looking after children were its main concerns. World Vision, which managed to get staff out to remote areas by helicopter on Wednesday, said sanitation, food and looking after children were its main concerns. Action Aid issued a similar warning. Its country director, Yolette Etienne, said that more than 500,000 men, women and children urgently needed food, clean drinking water and safe shelter. Doctors Without Borders was also flying personnel in by helicopter. CARE France, a humanitarian group, said that around one million people were in need of urgent assistance, and that many had “nothing left except the clothes on their back”.

Meanwhile in the US, 11 people are known to have died in across the southern US states. The storm swamped streets, gouged out roads, toppled trees and left millions without power. The hurricane also brought some of the highest tides on record despite being one of the most powerful hurricanes to threaten the US for more than a decade although it was a was barely a hurricane, with winds of 75 mph, down from 145 mph when it roared across Haiti and the US National Hurricane Centre downgraded Matthew to a Category One hurricane. However police cars were out enforcing a night-time curfew, imposed to prevent looting of abandoned homes.

President Barack Obama has declared emergencies in North and South Carolina, Florida and Georgia and ordered that federal aid be provided. Along with federal and local officials, he has also urged people not to be complacent and to heed safety instructions. Coastal residents have been warned that storm surges could still pose a danger by flooding entire neighbourhoods, even as Matthew departs the region. Obama also urged Americans to send in donations for Haiti’s hurricane victims as has Andrew Cuomo, the Governor of New York state, which is home to a large Haitian community.

“We know that hundreds of people have lost their lives and that there’s been severe property damage and they’re going to need help rebuilding,” Obama said.

“Even the smallest contribution can really make a big difference.”

Haiti’s overall death toll remains unknown. Death counts are frequently difficult to tabulate in the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster in any country, though it is particularly difficult in remote and mountainous southwest Haiti.

Four people were also killed in the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti.

Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas and still struggling to recover from its devastating 2010 earthquake, was ill equipped to cope when the hurricane rampaged its western peninsula last week.

The Red Cross has launched an emergency appeal for $6.9m (£5.6m) and Unicef said it needed at least $5m to meet the immediate needs of 500,000 affected children whilst UNICEF said it required £4m to provide initial aid to children.

However many Haitians are skeptical of help from abroad as the large-scale international aid programs in place since the 2010 quake have also been criticised for failing to build local capacity while spending millions on their own short-term programmes.

Therefore, the Interior Minister, Francois Anick Joseph, insisted that “it’s out of the question for NGOs to take charge of humanitarian aid”.

“We are very firm on this point: this country is led by a government. Across the country, it’s civil protection services that are coordinating everything,” he added.

“We are not going to turn this country into a messy chaos. It’s not going to happen. We already experienced that in 2010, we learned from our mistakes, we will act responsibly.”

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Naina Bhardwaj

Naina Bhardwaj

Naina Bhardwaj

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