Relief to Haiti takes form following Hurricane Matthew

The western Haitian cities of Les Cayes and Jeremie received the full force of Hurricane Matthew, with disastrous wind and water damage across wide areas. In the photo, U.S. Marines load over 12 tons of food items into helicopters from a World Food Program truck for delivery to Jeremie. Photo by: Frederic Fath / United Nations

United Nations agencies now understand what the most pressing, basic needs are in Haiti, in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew: food, clean water, access to health services, education, and, in some cases, reunification of families, says Douglas Reimer, UNICEF’s regional adviser for emergencies.

What isn’t clear yet is the scale of the aid that will be required in the weeks and months to come.

“I think the extent [of the damage] is greater than we thought it would be and certainly than we hoped it would be. To the extent possible with the help of our partners … we were quite ready and prepared in many aspects, but I don’t think you can ever be fully prepared for a catastrophe like this,” Reimer said in a phone interview with Devex from Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

As aid agencies, the Haitian government and U.S. military continue to assess and respond to the damage, the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched a $120 million appeal to support Haiti on Oct. 10.

Matthew, the first Category 4 hurricane to hit the country in the past 52 years, landed on Oct. 4, most severely damaging the remote, southwestern part of the country. It has killed more than 1,000 people, impacted 2.1 million and has displaced 175,509 Haitians, according to U.N. figures.

The flash appeal is intended to reach 750,000 people within the next three months. Food security, nutrition and emergency agriculture make up $56 million of this funding request. The U.N. expects 1.4 million Haitians require immediate humanitarian assistance.

“It’s heartbreaking. We are overwhelmed by the level of disaster because they have nothing. There is no food, there is nothing,” said Yolette Etienne, ActionAid’s country director in Haiti. “I saw a boy of 6 years and he said, ‘I would like to go home,’ but there is no home.”

Damage assessments

Up to 90 percent of the trees, gardens and crops in the western department of Grand-Anse have been destroyed, according to Alexis Masciarelli, a communications officer for the World Food Program. The organization, which had been cut off from affected communities by severe infrastructure damage, is only now receiving preliminary results of food security assessments in the area and of the department’s capital, Jeremie.

“People are eating in the countryside what has fallen from the trees — papaya, coconut.” Masciarelli said. “It is not nutritional enough in the long term and this is a factor that causes real worry.”

The WFP has moved 500 tons of food, including locally produced rice and peas, to the western part of Haiti by truck. It could take “some time” for the farming cycle to regenerate with the aid of equipment and money, Masciarelli says.

Ensuring access to clean water is another priority, as fragile water sources are now “completely destroyed” in many places, Reimer explained.

“Clearly with the history of Haiti, which has had some of the highest rates of cholera, it is a concern to make sure we are getting clean water and reestablishing the health systems,” he said.

The World Health Organization has announced it is dispatching 1 million cholera vaccine doses to Haiti, where there has been a reported uptick of cases in the country following the storm.

A Médecins Sans Frontières team is treating patients for injuries and cholera, including 87 cholera patients it reached on Oct. 11 alone in the southern department of Port-à-Piment, where the charity is constructing a 150-bed treatment center.

Global health nonprofit organization Management Sciences for Health plans to partner with the Haitian government to assess health system needs.

Lessons learned

Hurricane Matthew is the largest natural disaster to strike Haiti since the 2010 earthquake. That humanitarian response was criticized by some as being haphazard. But so far, the same mistakes are not being made in Matthew’s aftermath, Reimer and Masciarelli say.

“I think we learned a lot from [the 2010 response] and all those lessons, both the good and the challenges that happened, are informing what we are doing now.” Reimer said.

One lesson is to “have the right people at the right time,” he explained, and to not bring in too many people without a clear sense of what is needed. UNICEF is now operating with a staff of about 50 in Haiti and is also coordinating four other U.N. organizations to strategize work.

Masciarelli noted that the Haitian government is taking the lead, leading coordination meetings including one he attended on Saturday in Les Cayes. These meetings happen daily and are specific to the field of work and aid being delivered.

“You basically see every agency working its specialty and its knowledge areas,” Masciarelli said. “Working together is not a problem.”

A few countries and organizations have responded to the $120 million funding appeal so far. In addition to the $5 million the Central Emergency Response Fund is providing and $8 million from OCHA and UNICEF, the United Kingdom, as of Oct. 11, has pledged $6.2 million, while Canada, pledged $3.1 million. Italy, Norway, the United States, Switzerland and the European Union each pledged between $1.1 and $2 million, while five other countries and organizations, including the International Federation of Red Cross, have also made contributions.

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About the author

  • Lieberman amy

    Amy Lieberman

    Amy Lieberman is the New York Correspondent for Devex. She covers the United Nations and reports on global development and politics. Amy previously worked as a freelance reporter, covering the environment, human rights, immigration, and health across the U.S. and in more than 10 countries, including Colombia, Mexico, Nepal, and Cambodia. Her coverage has appeared in the Guardian, the Atlantic, Slate, and the Los Angeles Times. A native New Yorker, Amy received her master’s degree in politics and government from Columbia’s School of Journalism.