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Hurricane Irma heightens risk of cholera and food crisis in Haiti

Haiti is struggling to recover from Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and a severe food crisis. Photo: Action Against Hunger, Haiti, 2016

 
On Thursday evening, September 7th, Hurricane Irma—the most powerful Category 5 storm ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean—crossed north of Haiti. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

According to preliminary projections from Haiti’s National Protection Agency, as many as 600,000 people could be affected. However, the island was spared a direct hit from Hurricane Irma, and according to early reports, it has suffered less damage than authorities feared. The island is extremely vulnerable, with entrenched extreme poverty, weak infrastructure, and frequent cholera outbreaks. With most of its population dependent on small-scale agriculture for survival, even minimal damage could deliver severe setbacks to communities in the north.

Last year, Hurricane Matthew delivered long-term damage to people’s livelihoods in rural communities. According to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification analysis from February 2017, 1.7 million people in Haiti are experiencing crisis levels of food insecurity, and an additional 2.3 million are facing stress levels. This means that nearly 40 percent of the Haitian population is moderately to severely food insecure. Although Irma did not hit as hard as anticipated, most of the communities in the north live in extreme poverty and have minimal resources to rebuild.

“We are quite concerned about the risk of deepening hunger. It also of utmost importance to mobilize activities to improve sanitation and secure basic hygiene for populations: degraded sanitary conditions increase the risk of potential cholera outbreaks,” said Action Against Hunger’s Country Director in Haiti, Mathieu Nabot. “We have seen momentum in collective efforts to eradicate the cholera outbreaks to which Haiti is extremely vulnerable.”

Haiti is working to recover from the food crisis as well as the impact of Hurricane Matthew, which destroyed 90 percent of homes in some areas, and wiped out farming, fishing and small-scale livelihoods for entire communities, leaving people without assets or sources of income.

Action Against Hunger mobilizes rapid needs assessments

Action Against Hunger will deploy its expert emergency teams (already based in northern Haiti) to communities in Upper Artibonite and the Northwest region in the next 24 hours to conduct initial needs assessments. The organization is ready to distribute daily supplies of safe water, as well as emergency hygiene kits and other essential relief items to meet the immediate needs of 6,000 people, and will also be working to repair or rebuild water sources and sanitation infrastructure as needed in the short term.

Action Against Hunger has active programs in northern Haiti. The organization has pre-positioned emergency relief supplies and, pending more information on the extent of needs and damage, will mobilize 10 expert local teams in the hardest-hit areas in Upper Artibonite and the entire Northwest region of Haiti.

“Haiti is already fragile. We cannot afford to lose sight of the fact that Haiti has been experiencing a food crisis, and the storm could drive the poorest families into deeper crisis. It is vital to first respond to basic needs, but then to quickly transition to recovery activities to enable people to restore their livelihoods and sources of income,” said Mathieu Nabot.

Action Against Hunger is working in partnership with Haiti’s Civil Protection Directorate to co-lead the coordination of humanitarian activities among aid agencies in affected areas in Artibonite region and the Northwest region of the country. Action Against Hunger will work in partnership with UN OCHA and provide support to Haitian authorities to coordinate the humanitarian response in these areas and assess the most urgent needs in the wake of the hurricane to ensure the most vulnerable people receive rapid assistance.

Action Against Hunger has been working in Haiti since 1985. Our team of 450 staff manages programs from bases in Port-au-Prince, Gonaïves, Port-de-Paix, and Bombardopolis. In 2016, Action Against Hunger’s programs benefited more than 431,919 people in Haiti with humanitarian assistance and longer-term development programs to prevent cholera, improve access to safe water, improve nutrition, and strengthen the capacity of communities and local partners to build resilience to disaster and hunger.

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