Haiti After Sandy: Food Dwindles and Cholera Spikes

Destruction caused by Hurricane sandy in Haiti
Damage caused by Hurricane Sandy

As if the mud, misery, loss of life and homelessness in Hurricane Sandy’s wake weren’t bad enough, the worst may yet be to come for disaster-ravaged Haiti.

Massive crop damage throughout the southern third of the country, as well as the likelihood of a spike in cases of cholera and other water-borne diseases, could mean that the impoverished country will experience the deadliest effects of the storm’s havoc in the days and weeks ahead.

Sandy claimed the most lives in the Caribbean in Haiti, as swollen rivers and landslides resulted in a death toll of at least 52 persons, according to the country’s Civil Protection office.

Over three days of continuous rain left roads and bridges heavily damaged, cutting off access to several towns and a key border crossing with the Dominican Republic, moreover.

According to Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe, “the economy took a huge hit” and the hurricane’s impact was devastating, “even by international standards”. He added that Haiti was planning an appeal for emergency aid.

“Most of the agricultural crops that were left from Hurricane Isaac were destroyed during Sandy,” Lamothe said, “so food security will be an issue.”

The widespread loss of crops and supplies in the south, both for commercial growers and subsistence farmers, is a source of grave concern.

A series of nationwide protests and general strikes over the rising cost of living rocked the country even before Hurricane Sandy hit, and Jean Debalio Jean-Jacques, the Ministry of Agriculture’s director for the southern department, said he worried that the massive crop loss “could aggravate the situation.”

“The storm took everything away,” he said. “Everything the people had in reserve – corn, tubers – all of it was devastated. Some people had already prepared their fields for winter crops and those were devastated.”

On Haiti’s south-western tip, the Abricots community was still recovering from the effects of Hurricane Tomas and a recent dry spell when Sandy struck.

“We’ll have famine in the coming days,” said Abricots Mayor Kechner Toussaint. “It’s an agricultural disaster.”

The main staples of the local diet, bananas and breadfruit, were ripped out by winds and ruined by heavy rains.

In Camp-Perrin, a mountainous region in the southwest peninsula, coffee planters lamented the loss of a harvest they were weeks away from collecting.

“Coffee is the bank account of the peasants,” said Maurice Jean-Louis, a planter and head of a coffee growers’ cooperative in Camp-Perrin. Rain flooded many storage areas as well, soaking coffee beans that were set aside for export. He called the damage “incalculable.”

In Port-au-Prince, Sandy destroyed concrete homes and tent camps alike, where 370,000 victims of the 2010 earthquake are still living. Authorities said 18,000 families were left homeless in the disaster.

Adding to the despair, a sharp rise in suspected cholera cases has been reported by aid organizations in several departments.

At least 86 new cases have come from Port-au-Prince’s earthquake survivor camps alone, according to Dr. Juan Carlos Gustavo Alonso of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). Many communities are still cut off and only accessible by helicopter, he said, so the broader rise in cholera was “still too early to tell.”

Cholera has sickened almost 600,000 people and killed more than 7,400 since October 2010 in Haiti.

The state and international aid organizations have been distributing food, water and other items to affected camps and communities, including personal distributions by President Michel Martelly.

“These stocks are running dangerously low,” said George Ngwa, spokesman for OCHA, a humanitarian coordinating body in Haiti. “After Tropical Storm Isaac in August, these stocks have not been replenished. What we’re doing is scraping the bottom.”