PORT-AU-PRINCE – A Herculean effort is still needed to prevent public health deterioration in Haiti warns International aid agency Oxfam. Time is pressing as there are only six weeks before the start of the rainy season.
There have been enormous and successful efforts delivering clean water and food to people since the quake hit exactly a month ago. To date, Oxfam has provided assistance to about 100,000 people and continues to scale up operations, planning to reach at least 500,000 people by the end of July.
But the same effort must now be made to tackle poor sanitation. A coordinated effort is needed from the international community, the UN, and aid agencies in advance of the rainy season, due in April.
“Around 230,000 people lost their lives on January 12. It is our priority to make sure that we don’t let that number grow,” said Marcel Stoessel, Head of Oxfam in Haiti.
Oxfam fears that cases of diarrhea and other water-borne diseases could spread given the combination of poor drainage, a limited number of latrines, and crowded living conditions.
Oxfam has so far installed latrines at 11 key sites and many more are planned. Public health teams are also working with communities to reduce the risk of disease by clearing trash and raising awareness. But there is still a long way to go.
“Thanks to the generous public and political response, the aid effort has rapidly expanded to meet people’s needs, but there is still a mountain to climb.
“We now need a surge in effort to improve sanitation facilities for people in Haiti. Let us not kid ourselves that this is going to be easy, it requires a Herculean humanitarian effort from all sectors.
The temporary camps where people have congregated are fast-becoming over-crowded slums and need upgrading to allow easy access to basic services. More ditches are needed to improve drainage in the crowded camps before the rains begin. Oxfam also fears for the safety of people who have moved to areas that are at risk from land and mudslides because of the upcoming rains.
The Government of Haiti has plans to resettle people, but still needs to clarify whether there is government land available or if they will have to take over privately owned land. The Government also needs to ensure people are not forced to move away from their communities, new camps are safe, and there is a plan in place to ensure camps do not become dumping grounds outside the city. These decisions need to be made quickly.
The huge logistical challenges facing the aid effort - communications, transport, loss of key staff, destroyed physical and political infrastructure – are slowly being overcome, but bottlenecks still remain.
While the coordination of the aid effort is going well, Oxfam said it still needs to be improved. Hundreds of agencies now in Haiti - estimates vary from 500 to 900 – are playing their part in the response. The UN has made great strides coordinating the aid effort, but, along with the Government of Haiti, it needs to provide stronger leadership.
As more than 75 percent of Haiti’s capital needs to be rebuilt, reconstruction will take many years and needs the full support of the international community, Oxfam said.
“The vision of the Haitian government should ensure that a newly built Haiti does not recreate the injustices and inequalities of the past.
“The country’s reconstruction should be led by Haitians for Haitians,” Stoessel said. “With more than 80 percent living below the poverty line before the earthquake, the needs of Haiti’s poor must be central.”
Though the focus of the aid effort centers around the capital, where the majority of needs are, there is a growing concern about conditions in the countryside where nearly 500,000 people have fled. Vigilance is needed to ensure that their needs do not fall off the radar, and support must be provided to those hosting them.