Last Tuesday, Hurricane Matthew hit Haiti with heavy rains and 145-mph winds — the worst storm to strike the nation in more than 50 years. The damage has been extensive and the emergency needs are significant, but we are thankful for the Haitian and international organizations that were quick to come together to provide immediate relief efforts to Haitians in the impacted areas.
As we noted in a recent blog post, CGI members joined a community of first responders in mobilizing critical resources within hours of the hurricane, including deploying medical resources and emergency response personnel to serve on the ground. For example, Direct Relief International, in partnership with Partners in Health, the Batey Relief Alliance, and the St. Boniface Hospital, coordinated to deliver emergency medical supplies like medical aid kits, P&G water purifier tablets, and food products to be distributed to the victims. As the UN estimates that approximately 1.4 million Haitians will require emergency relief supplies in the short-term, the agility and swiftness of these organizations has been critical.
Matthew’s path moved on to impact Cuba, the Bahamas, and then Florida and the Carolinas, and with it, we hope that Haiti is not forgotten. Looking past the emergency relief phase, much work will have to go into rebuilding houses, schools, bridges, and water and sanitation infrastructure in a sustainable way so that Haiti is able to better withstand the impact of future storms.
It's important to note that the threat in Haiti is not over. There are serious concerns that the devastation of Hurricane Matthew could worsen over the months and years to come by exacerbating three of Haiti’s significant pre-existing challenges: food insecurity; cholera and other waterborne diseases; and deforestation. If left unaddressed, these challenges could result in tremendous loss of life and continue cycles of poverty and environmental degradation well beyond Matthew.
- Food insecurity: An estimated three-quarters of Haitians live on less than US$2 per day. Most families in rural Haiti depend on agriculture as both a source of income and to combat food insecurity. Prior to Hurricane Matthew, Haiti was experiencing a third consecutive year of drought, and smallholder farmers around the country were facing severe crop losses. Just this April, the World Food Program estimated that three million people in Haiti were at risk of being food insecure. After Matthew, with heavy rains and winds pummeling trees, killing valuable livestock, and destroying farms, the number of food insecure Haitians will almost certainly rise. Supporting organizations like the Smallholder Farmers Alliance and Zanmi Agrikol will be hugely important in the coming months.
- Cholera and Waterborne Diseases: Haiti is still struggling with a cholera epidemic that (re)surfaced in 2010, killing about 9,000 people and infecting 744,000 across the country. Cholera outbreaks are more common during the rainy season and floods, when people are more likely to come into contact with contaminated sewage. Operation Blessing predicts a “tsunami of cholera cases unseen since post-earthquake days” in Haiti post-Hurricane Matthew. Supporting organizations like Partners in Health and GHESKIO, which have built and staffed centers to treat thousands of patients infected with the disease, and SOIL Haiti, which builds portable toilets and safely collects waste for conversion into organic compost, will be of critical importance.
- Deforestation: 98 percent of Haiti’s forests have been cut down over the decades — yet trees play a vital role in protecting against erosion, reducing the risk of mudslides, and promoting soil productivity. With Hurricane Matthew, Haiti was once again faced with the devastating power of rains, winds, and flash floods that endanger the lives and homes of people who were already living with very little. It also served as a reminder of the value that trees hold in the ground. Supporting reforestation programs with NGOs like J/P Haitian Relief Organization and Fondation Seguin will be a key component of Haiti’s recovery and future disaster risk reduction strategy.
In the coming weeks and months, it will be crucial to also remember the longer-term challenges facing the country, and to both learn from past approaches and to develop creative solutions and partnerships to address them. A great example of such partnerships is the collaboration between the Timberland Company and the Smallholder Farmers Alliance, which began in 2010 following the devastating earthquake. Both parties committed to developing a large scale agro-forestry program within deforested, rural Haiti. Just six years later, they’ve planted an estimated 6 million trees, all the while supporting sustainable agriculture, environmental restoration, and the socio-economic development of local farmers.
This is one of several ways that CGI members and others have come together to address some of the most pressing issues facing Haiti in disaster settings over the years. In the aftermath of immense struggles like Hurricane Matthew, it is programs like these — with an eye towards prevention and resilience — that can help Haiti not only recover, but stand strong in the face of its future challenges.