Hurricane Matthew’s destructive path through the Caribbean dealt a “major blow” to Haiti’s reconstruction effort and fight the against cholera, the United Nations humanitarian chief said this evening as the UN announced $5 million in emergency funds to kick-start assistance in the wake of the deadly storm, which has affected some 350,000 people on the tiny island.
Along with a grant of $5 million to address the most life-saving needs, the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) earlier this week released a loan of $8 million dollars to the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) to scale up response to the worsening cholera epidemic in Haiti.
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Category 4 Hurricane Matthew Tuesday smashed into Haiti with 235 kilometres per hour winds with devastating impact and left destruction in its wake. As information from the areas that were hit hardest becomes available, and as villages and coastal towns begin making contact with the outside world, the death toll soars and the scope of the damage becomes evident.
Initial assessments indicate that hundreds of people have died and thousands of families have lost their homes, livestock and crops.
“We expect that homes, schools and cholera treatment facilities have been destroyed and that water systems, roads and bridges have been severely damaged. This is a major blow to Haiti’s reconstruction effort and the fight against cholera, so that’s why immediate CERF funds now will kick start vital life-saving assistance for Haitians caught up in this crisis,” said UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O'Brien.
Intense rains in May and June of 2016, as well as the potential loss of immunity to cholera four years after the highest peaks of the disease have increased the number of suspected cholera cases. In 2016 almost 27,000 cholera cases have been reported in Haiti, and over 240 people have died. Hurricane Matthew is feared to significantly worsen the situation and increase the risk of a larger outbreak, according to the UN.
“There is a lot of suffering, a lot of hardship; some of the communities have been almost totally destroyed by the strength of the wind. Therefor the shelters, public infrastructure including the schools [and] hospitals have been affected,” Enzo di Taranto, the Head of Office for OCHA in Haiti, said in an interview with UN Radio.
He added that there also has been significant damage to the country’s electrical and water provision systems.
Meanwhile, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) reports that very little is known about the island’s most isolated and impoverished areas, including the towns of Les Cayes, Port Salut and Jérémiem, all located in the south-west Department of Grande Anse et Sud, where the hurricane first made landfall. According to the agency, all the towns suffered severe flooding.
WFP’s efforts on the ground
The agency has already prepositioned 7.5 million pounds of food, including high-energy biscuits for families whose homes and food stocks have been destroyed or damaged.In addition, WFP reports that there is 25 tons of food locally available in Jeremie for immediate distribution. These local food rations will enable 9,000 people to meet their immediate food needs for one week.
In the long run, Haitian farmers, and producers of the countries staple foods, including plantain, will face serious challenges to recover. WFP reports that up to 80 per cent of the harvest has been lost in some areas.
UNICEF sounds alarm on behalf of 500,000 children in hard-hit areas
An estimated 500,000 school going children live in Grande Anse and Ground South departments in southern Haiti, the areas worst-hit by Hurricane Matthew, and, according to a briefing from UNICEF earlier today, an estimated 175 of their school were severely damaged while 150 others across the country are being used as shelters.“The priority is to ensure that children have access to safe drinking water as they are particularly vulnerable to water-borne diseases,” UNICEF spokesperson Christophe Boulierac told reporters in Geneva, adding that several health facilities have been damaged and need to be repaired.
Additionally, UNICEF estimates that up to 80 per cent of the homes in the southern part of the country are damaged and nearly 16,000 people are staying in temporary shelters.