From the IASC Emergency Directors Group Report from Mission to Haiti:
Members of the IASC Emergency Directors Group (EDG)1 travelled to Haiti from 2 to 5 November 2016 to review the humanitarian situation one month on from Hurricane Matthew, to take stock of current operational challenges and to identify additional support requirements. The mission included meetings with humanitarian leadership and partners, as well as donors and senior representatives of the Government of Haiti. The team visited the two worst-affected Departments, Grand’Anse and Sud, where they met with affected people and humanitarians at the front line of the response effort.
Mission members saw first-hand the destruction caused by the Hurricane in the south-west of the country. In Jérémie, the team visited a school hosting an unconfirmed number of people whose homes had been damaged or destroyed. Humanitarian conditions were appalling, with extremely limited sanitation facilities, significant overcrowding and very serious protection concerns, including around gender-based violence. The Emergency Directors spoke to affected people who wanted to return to their homes but needed support to do so. As was the case in other locations, authorities were eager to evacuate the site to allow school to resume and to enable the building to be used as a polling centre for elections scheduled to begin on 20 November, without necessarily ensuring the voluntariness of these returns. Authorities were also said to be opposed to the establishment of facilities for fear of encouraging the use of public buildings as places for longer term shelter. Humanitarian partners were planning a pilot project to target aid in return areas to encourage movement out of relocation sites, but stressed that assistance must be provided in relocation sites in parallel, in part to mitigate the risk of epidemic outbreaks.
Response to the widespread shelter needs was complicated by gaps in data and by Government sensitivities around the provision of tents. More than 140,000 people were estimated to be in official shelters and partners warned that a similar number may be staying with host families or in informal sites. The Emergency Directors observed extensive damage to homes in villages around Jérémie and Les Cayes.
With the most severe damage in rural and peri-urban areas, and the November planting season ongoing, the impact of the Hurricane on agriculture was of particular concern. In Les Cayes, the team travelled through agricultural land on which crops had been destroyed and where debris and lack of seeds continued to prevent planting. The team was also briefed on livestock losses and extensive damage in the fisheries sector. It was stressed that sustained support for agricultural recovery was needed, with the March planting season – which typically accounted for 50 per cent of annual food stocks – identified as a critical milestone.
In the health sector, key priorities included the restoration of access to health services, including cholera treatment centres, disease surveillance and response to outbreaks. In Grand’Anse,close to half of the Department’s health facilities had either been severely damaged or completely destroyed. Thirty per cent of cholera treatment centres had also been damaged across the five worst-affected departments. The Hurricane had caused a major spike in cholera cases, including the worst outbreak since 2010/11 in Sud Department, although the deployment of additional rapid response teams had since brought the number of new cases below levels seen in the months prior to the Hurricane. Partners were also preparing to roll out a major cholera vaccination campaign. However, they stressed the considerable risks that this campaign carries in the current emergency context with significant logistical and security concerns. The need for sustained funding across the medium and longer terms, including investment in the country’s health infrastructure was also highlighted. Malaria was another key health concern, with Grand’Anse accounting for 40 per cent of the overall malaria burden in the country and a peak in cases expected towards the end of November. The team visited a mobile health clinic in Arniquet, outside Les Cayes, which had attracted a large number of people, primarily women and children.
Water and sanitation continued to represent critical challenges, with the Hurricane further aggravating extensive pre-existing structural gaps. The Emergency Directors were informed that just 28 per cent of the country’s population was estimated to have had access to improved sanitation facilities in 2015. The lack of sanitation facilities in the relocation centre visited was of significant concern. The team visited water treatment projects in Jérémie and outside Les Cayes, providing critical safe water.
Security was consistently identified as among the most pressing operational challenges. Several partners reported looting of supplies and there was particular concern around the risk of violence during food distributions. Days before the team arrived, a 10-year-old child had been killed when police open fire on a crowd at a distribution in Les Cayes, in the second such incident in less than a week. The ability of the police to contribute to a safe environment for the provision of assistance had been negatively impacted by the Hurricane itself. MINUSTAH also had an important role to play, but the Mission’s resources would be increasingly drawn away from areas affected by the Hurricane to support the elections due to take place on 20 November. The team highlighted these concerns when they met with the SRSG for MINUSTAH. She assured them that the Mission would seek to minimise the impact on aid operations, but that an interruption of support would be unavoidable during the election period.