Emergency appeal launched as Hurricane Sandy devastates local food supplies

Published: 2 November 2012 23:05 CET

For the second time this year, Haiti has been battered by hurricane winds and rain, leaving thousands of seeking shelter, local food supplies devastated and the risk of diseases such as cholera and malaria increasing. In response, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has launched an emergency appeal to support the vital work of the Haiti Red Cross Society.

High above the land, Dr Guiteau Jean-Pierre, Executive Director of Haiti Red Cross Society, is trying to find his bearings. At this point along the coast, he knows they should have reached the river. Instead, he is looking at an expanse of mud creeping through a scattering of debris. Or maybe it is a lake, but one that does not show on any map.

The helicopter pilot points to trees sticking out of the sludge. They trace the line the river used to follow; but the river, the land, the fields and their crops, and the homes as far as the eye can see, have been swamped by hurricane Sandy.

In the chopper are staff from the Haiti Red Cross Society and the IFRC, one of the teams surveying the devastation in West, Nippes, South and Grande Anse provinces. By the end of the weekend, there have been 54 deaths, 20 people missing and 21 injuries. Moreover, 18,000 families have been devastated 6,790 people are being cared for in 66 emergency shelters.

Today, the assessments move into new areas that have not been previously covered. Although there are basic needs and requirement that are common to every region, each has its own unique challenge.

In Les Nippes, the major concerns are cholera and the loss of livelihoods. Harvesting was about to begin when the storm rolled through region, destroying banana and other fruit trees. The resulting damage is so extensive that 90-95 per cent of the local food supply is lost.

In the South, the emergency assessment teams reported a lack of drinkable water and latrines, and the potential for a cholera outbreak. These were also recommended by the team that visited Jeremie, Les Irois and Dame Marie, while adding the need for mosquito nets, shelter toolkits, tarpaulins and seeds to put farmers back into their fields.

Volunteers from the Red Cross are visiting the more vulnerable communities. Using megaphones, they are spreading hygiene messages - including the importance to wash hands and use treated water - wherever Sandy has been through. Louise-Marie Daniel, supervisor for promotion and hygiene with the Haiti Red Cross Society says prevention is essential. “Many areas were flooded, and the water is now contaminated,” she says.

Messages stressing the need to wash hands and to treat water are also being broadcast through SMS, sound truck and interactive voice response system (telefon kwa wouj). Since the arrival of the hurricane, 1,228,228 SMS were sent via DIGICEL network and 286,140 via VOILA network; tweets reached 3,000 followers; and sound trucks visited 23 camps and 13 other communities. As well as hygiene messaging, the sound trucks and volunteers have also been talking about violence prevention.

Given the poor quality of water and sanitation in the region, there is a potential risk of disease outbreaks such as malaria, cholera and diarrhea. As a result, in addition to increasing hygiene promotion sessions and activities linked with awareness raising on prevention of epidemics and control, there is a need to distribute hygiene kits, buckets, aquatabs, chlorine and soap to prevent the spread of waterborne disease, as well as oral rehydration solution for cholera treatment.

Today’s preliminary emergency appeal for 2,162,206 Swiss francs (2,162,206 CHF/2,316,000 US dollars) will enable the Haiti Red Cross Society to assist 7,000 families for the next nine months. This appeal is being launched independently of the ongoing earthquake and recovery programs.