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Haiti is the country with the highest risk of vulnerability to climate change in terms of potential floods and mudslides. According to the Climate Change Vulnerability Index , which ranks nearly 200 nations and their vulnerability to climate change. The arrival of hurricane Sandy proved this tragic statistic true, once again.
Contrary to the effects causes by tropical storm Isaac, which hit Haiti in August and brought strong winds, this time communities were mostly affected by the massive quantities of rain. Assessments conducted on the 26th and the 27th in the areas where CARE works (Léogane, Carrefour and Grande-Anse) showed the extent of the damages. In Léogane, located along the coastline, several villages were washed by massive flooding, leaving over 300 families homeless and forced to seek refuge in schools, churches or with more fortunate neighbors.
The situation in Carrefour was even more devastating. Here, a region of over 450,000 inhabitants, where most people are living in transitional shelters constructed after the devastating earthquake in 2010 (more than 1,100 of these shelters were built by CARE). Hurricane Sandy damaged over 300 shelters and detstroyed 200 latrines currently under construction. Carrefour is also a region with very scarce access to potable water. People trying to reach water spring catchments can only do so by crossing a river that is now swollen. And to make a bad situation worse, many of the water kiosks (places where people are able to clean water for a small fee) have been closed, due to power shortages and the absence of operators, leaving the population no other choice than to use river water for drinking, which has already been contaminated by fecal matter due to commonly practiced open defecation in the area.
Grande-Anse, and its twelve communes, was the most affected department of Haiti by Hurricane Sandy. Massive rainfalls washed away bridges and homes. An estimated 3,000 homes were destroyed or badly damaged, and over 1,600 people displaced. Many areas are still completely cut off. The destruction has had a high impact on food security: 40 to 50 percent of crops are lost. The production was already expected to be low due to droughts and tropical storm Isaac, therefore placing this farming community at higher risk in terms of increasing levels of malnutrition.
Cholera is another pressing issue. Grande Anse has the highest cholera prevalence in the country. CARE’s immediate response therefore consists of supporting cholera treatment centers through programs already in place in the area, repairing existing cholera treatment facilities, through our partner Médecins du Monde-France, as well as improving water sources. Response activities will also focus on the distribution of aquatabs to purify water, tarpaulins and tents, hygiene promotion as well as relief items such as hygiene and kitchen kits, and water containers. In conjunction with the local water authority, DINEPA, CARE established a bladder of over 1,500 gallons of chlorinated water, and will continue to do so as needed, particularly in areas where cholera is likely to spread. The lack of water and sanitation in Haiti is often simply overwhelming
In my twelve years of experience working overseas in development and emergency programs, I find it unbelievable that Haiti experiences such low levels of access to water and sanitation, considering its close proximity to the U.S.A. Hurricane Sandy will not be the last storm that passes through Haiti. We will continue to see natural disasters destroying people’s lives and livelihoods and they will need our assistance. It is imperative that we invest in improving water and sanitation and disaster risk reduction, so people can protect themselves and be prepared for future disasters.
Elizabeth M. Campa is Water Sanitation and Hygiene Coordinator for CARE Haiti.