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Hurricane Sandy lashes Haiti; Oxfam aims to prevent cholera outbreaks

By Coco McCabe

As Hurricane Sandy threatens to feed into a “perfect storm” that could wreak havoc on the east coast of the US, countless people in Haiti—many of them still homeless following the 2010 earthquake--are already weathering the worst. Heavy rain has lashed the steep ravines and low-lying communities, causing flooding and the possibility of new spikes of deadly cholera.

Oxfam is gearing up to respond to the flooding and potential for disease outbreaks.

“We are mobilizing all local organizations trained in cholera prevention to prepare a large campaign in the coming days,” said Oxfam’s Amelie Gauthier. “Oxfam is supporting local authorities—the Civil Protection Agency and the National Direction for Water and Sanitation in various localities in the Region des Palmes—providing them with transport, logistics and equipment for now. We are preparing hygiene kits, cholera prevention kits for distribution for some temporary shelters.”

Oxfam is launching an assessment in the department of Nippes—much of it affected by the heavy rain. At least two other departments have also been hit badly by the storm: Grande Anse and South.  As of Friday, the country remained under a state of alert across all of its 10 departments.

“In one area in Croix-des-Bouquets (near the capital of Port-au-Prince), we spoke to several families who now live with 160 families—more than 500 people in a fire station,” said Gauthier.  “There are pregnant women and young children as part of that one shelter.”  She added that many homes have been flooded and families need basic relief items such as plastic sheeting and hygiene kits.

A lack of access to drinkable water and safe sanitation in some urban and rural areas is also cause for worry. Oxfam is monitoring some of those areas closely.

“We’re also concerned at initial reports of destruction of agricultural crops caused by Hurricane Sandy in the south,” Gauthier said. “The south of Haiti is already food insecure because of the drought and impacts of tropical storm Isaac. We’re following the situation closely as this will affect thousands of farmers for the planting season as well as school nutrition programs.”

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