As tropical storm Tomas churns toward Haiti, the government of the earthquake-ravaged nation is leading emergency preparations with support from aid agencies, which have stockpiled essential goods including medical supplies and food.
The storm is expected to hit sometime early Friday morning. In the event of the damage it may cause, Oxfam will ensure that the nearly 500,000 people it is now helping will continue to have clean water and sanitation services. The organization is planning to repair latrines and other structures it has built.
But because of the recent cholera outbreak north of Haiti’s capital, humanitarian groups, including Oxfam, are finding their resources stretched and more supplies will be needed if Tomas turns destructive. Oxfam’s cholera response program is reaching about 100,000 people in the Artibonite province. According to the ministry of health, the outbreak has sent 6,742 people to hospitals and left 442 dead.
Throughout the hurricane season, which started June 1, Oxfam has been preparing for a major storm in Port-au-Prince, the camp-filled capital, and surrounding communities. More than one million people are still living under tarps and in tents since a January earthquake destroyed great swaths of the city. Oxfam has reinforced its water and sanitation facilities, by tying down water bladders, adding extra supports to shower stalls, and taking precautions to ensure that latrines don’t flood. In addition, Oxfam has been clearing canals and digging drains for months.
The organization has also continued its public health campaigns, educating people about good personal hygiene practices that will prevent the spread of waterborne disease, which is crucial if there is flooding. And Oxfam has been distributing extra hygiene supplies, like soap and jerry cans.
If the storm strikes, Oxfam will send out emergency response teams within 24 hours after to assess camps where it works and determine what repairs need to be made and ensure that people have adequate drinking water.
Despite these preparations, Oxfam remains very concerned about the impact heavy rains may have on the spread of cholera, and other diseases. If there is storm flooding and the water does not drain off, waterborne diseases can spread quickly.
In Artibonite, Oxfam’s team of 25 staffers is carrying out a massive hygiene education campaign, through radio messages, training community members to spread information about good hygiene, and large-scale public education sessions in villages and towns. The only way to stop the spread of cholera is when each and every person is practicing good hygiene. In addition to that initiative, Oxfam is also distributing water purification tablets and powder, soap, buckets, and oral rehydration salts in the area of Petite Riviere.