A desperate and largely unknown humanitarian crisis is deteriorating in the Lake Chad Basin region of West Africa, forcing millions of people to flee their homes and leaving millions more in need of humanitarian assistance. Oxfam is providing life-saving support but help is urgently needed to prevent the crisis turning into a catastrophe.
International agency Oxfam warns today a Herculean effort is still needed if public health in Haiti is not to deteriorate. Time is pressing as there are only six weeks before the start of the raining season.
The agency said there have been enormous and successful efforts in getting clean water and food to people since the quake hit exactly a month ago. To date, Oxfam has provided assistance to about 100,000 people and continues to scale up operations, planning to reach at least 500,000 people by the end of July.
But the same progress must now be made in tackling poor sanitation and the aid agency says a surge in effort is needed from the international community, the UN and aid agencies in advance of the rainy season, due in April.
The organization fears that cases of diarrhea and other water-borne diseases could spread given the combination of poor drainage, a limited number of latrines and crowded living conditions.
Oxfam has so far installed latrines at 11 key sites and many more are planned. Public health teams are also working with communities to reduce the risk of disease by rubbish-clearing and awareness-raising. But there is still a long way to go.
“Thanks to the generous public and political response the aid effort has rapidly expanded to meet people’s needs but there is still a mountain to climb.
“We now need a surge in effort to improve sanitation facilities for people in Haiti. Let us not kid ourselves that this is going to be easy, it requires a Herculean humanitarian effort from all quarters.
“Around 230,000 people lost their lives on January 12. It is our priority to make sure that we don’t let that number grow,” said Marcel Stoessel, Head of Oxfam in Haiti.
The temporary camps where people have congregated are fast-becoming over-crowded slums and need upgrading to allow easy access to basic services. More ditches need to be dug to improve the drainage in the crowded camps before the rains begin. Oxfam also fears for the safety of people who have moved to areas that are at risk from land and mudslides because of the upcoming rains.
The Government has plans to resettle people but it still needs to clarify whether there is government land available or if it needs to confiscate private land instead.
It also needs to ensure that people are not forced to move away from their communities, that new camps are safe and that there is a plan in place to ensure that camps do not becoming dumping grounds outside the city. These decisions need to be taken quickly.
The huge logistical challenges facing the aid effort – communications, transport, loss of key staff, destroyed physical and political infrastructure – are slowly being overcome but bottlenecks still remain.
While the coordination of the aid effort is going well, Oxfam said it still needs to be improved. Hundreds of agencies now in Haiti – estimates vary from 500 to 900 – are playing their part in the response and the UN has made great strides in coordinating the aid effort but along with the Government it needs to provide stronger leadership.
As more than 75 per cent of Haiti’s capital needs to be rebuilt, reconstruction will take many years and needs the full support of the international community, Oxfam said. The Government needs to elaborate on its reconstruction vision as the many rumours about its plans are causing a sense of anxiety amongst those who have lost their homes.
"Whatever the vision of the Haitian government is, it should ensure that a newly built Haiti does not recreate the injustices and inequalities of the past.
“The country’s reconstruction ought to be led by Haitians for Haitians,” Stoessel said. “With more than 80 per cent below the poverty line before the earthquake, the needs of Haiti’s poor must be central.”
Though the focus of the aid effort centers around the capital, where the majority of needs are, there is a growing concern about conditions in the countryside where nearly 500,000 people have fled. Vigilance is needed to ensure that their needs do not fall off the radar and support must be provided to those hosting them.
Notes to editors
Key Haiti facts
- The earthquake measured 7.3 on the Richter scale at 16.50 local time on Tuesday, January 12, 10 miles south-west of the capital of Port au Prince.
- The epicenter was near the slum of Carrefour. There are reports that more than 90 per cent of its buildings are in ruins.
- Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere: 85 per cent of the people living in Haiti live in poverty.