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New obstacles in Haiti
October 27, 2010

New obstacles in Haiti
A young girl afflicted with cholera lies in a bed at the crowded St. Nicholas Hospital in Saint Marc, in the Artibonite region of Haiti. Saint Marc is at the epicenter of a cholera outbreak which has so far claimed 259 lives and affected more than 3300 people. (UN Photo/Sophia Paris)
"This is an extremely serious situation and based on experience with epidemics elsewhere it would be irresponsible to plan for anything but a considerably wider outbreak,” said Nigel Fisher, UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Haiti. "We are particularly concerned about Port-au-Prince and those in the slum areas as well as in the camps, but we are also preparing for outbreaks in the rest of the country."

by Edson Wooldy Louidor
Jesuit Refugee Service Latin America and Carribbean

(Port au Prince) Oct. 26, 2010 – A month before elections for a new president and legislature scheduled for Haiti on November 28, an epidemic of cholera has again focused world attention on Haiti. The disease has killed more than 259 people and sickened another 3,300, according to health authorities as they said the situation was stabilizing.

Despite that announcement, the UN warned that all scenarios should be planned for. "This is an extremely serious situation and based on experience with epidemics elsewhere it would be irresponsible to plan for anything but a considerably wider outbreak,” said Nigel Fisher, UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Haiti. "We are particularly concerned about Port-au-Prince and those in the slum areas as well as in the camps, but we are also preparing for outbreaks in the rest of the country."

Humanitarian agencies are working to ensure that people have access to clean water, assessing hygiene conditions at water points, distributing soap and carrying out an awareness campaign in affected and at-risk areas.

Fearing a possible spread of the epidemic in the Haitian Capital and other departments, some analysts question whether the election campaigns should be suspended to avoid the risks of contamination during massive human concentrations.

As the cholera outbreak plagues a beleaguered population, a group of experts led by Eric Calais, of Purdue University, warned on Sunday that the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden fault (in the southern peninsula of the island) is still keeping a charge of energy accumulated over the centuries; it "remains an important seismic hazard for Haiti and Port au Prince in particular," he said.

Experts have corrected earlier reports about the the earthquake of January 12, 2010, and now say it was not due to the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden fault, as was thought at first, but a previously unknown fault located near the city of Léogane (in western Haiti). 

As these risks hover over Haiti, it is time to reflect on the country's vulnerabilities and the causes to at least reduce the impacts of disasters following natural phenomena.

Natural disaster are combinations of processes and events, including a potentially destructive agent and a population weakened by economic and social vulnerability. The vulnerability is caused primarily by a set of socio-economic, political and even cultural factors affecting the characteristics of a person or group and their situation that influence their ability to anticipate, cope with, resist and recover from the impact of an event.

The question "What are the causes of vulnerability in Haiti?" should be at the heart of the reconstruction process and the electoral debate. The disasters affecting the country could  present an opportunity to lay the foundations of a new Haiti: decentralized, fair, equitable, democratic, inclusive, equipped with a responsible state, a country that respects human rights and dignity of every Haitian and Haiti.



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