PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is working on strengthening sanitation, providing food and restoring gardens in Haiti in the wake of October’s Hurricane Matthew.
The Category 4 storm exacerbated cholera concerns and food shortages that already existed before entire communities saw trees stripped bare, fields flooded, and homes, schools and health centers destroyed.
“Hurricane Matthew hit our communities hard — we lost gardens, we lost animals, we lost houses,” said Emmanuel Boisrond, a community leader from Wondo-Bikèt in Haiti’s Artibonite Department.
MCC photo/Paul Fast
Though southwest Haiti received the full brunt of the Oct. 4 storm, regions throughout the country suffered serious impacts. Mountaintop communities, like Boisrond’s, where MCC has implemented a reforestation program for decades, also suffered.
MCC is focusing its response in the Artibonite, where local authorities, community members, MCC and its partners worked together to craft a response to help hundreds of families affected by the hurricane.
Matthew’s heavy winds and rain destroyed health centers, latrines and septic systems, the infrastructure used to contain and treat cholera, a primarily waterborne disease that spreads quickly in areas of poor sanitation.
The disease has plagued Haiti since 2010 when United Nations’ peacekeepers’ contaminated waste was negligently released into Haiti’s main waterway. At least 9,500 Haitians have died since then.
The outbreak began in a town bordering the Artibonite, and the region remains a stronghold of cholera transmission.
Residents of Wopisa, an Artibonite community, lost their few latrines to the hurricane, and they fear the disease’s resurgence. Up to 30 percent of their community has already contracted the disease since 2010. Since communities like Wopisa are accessible only by foot or donkey, reaching the nearest health center can take hours, sometimes making treatment too late.
MCC photo/Paul Fast
To help prevent cholera, MCC is providing materials and expert construction oversight for eight communities to build latrines for 250 families. Families also will receive hygiene training and supplies.
“When I told the Wopsia community leader [about the latrine project] he started crying,” said Jean Remy Azor, the program director for MCC’s reforestation program. “They have lost so much [already] to cholera and other diseases. After the hurricane, they are so afraid of cholera coming back in a big way, but these latrines give hope that this will not happen.”
MCC also continues to ask U.S. citizens to urge Congress to push the UN to immediately implement cholera remedies it has promised as infection rates rise post-Hurricane Matthew.
In addition to threats to health, communities are trying to determine how to feed their families. Haiti, an already food insecure nation, is facing a widespread crisis as smallholder farmers have lost large percentages of their crops.
In the commune where Wondo-Bikèt is situated, MCC and community leaders’ post-storm assessment found that an estimated 2,322 acres of crops were lost and 3,240 animals killed, leaving families in need of both immediate assistance and long-term support to rebuild and improve their farming plots.
In the short term, MCC is distributing locally procured food, including corn, beans, rice and chickens, to 125 vulnerable families. Families will also receive seedlings for fast-growing crops like tomatoes, eggplant and moringa that can produce in just three months.
MCC photo/Paul Fast
For long-term revitalization of families’ land, MCC will draw upon its nearly 60 years of experience in combating food insecurity in Haiti by organizing families into cooperative groups. Group members will help each other rebuild fencing, implement soil conservation techniques taught by MCC staff and prepare the soil for planting.
“This new project in Wondo-Bikèt will allow parents to feed their children and rebuild their garden,” Boisrond explained. “To families that lost everything, knowing that they can plant again is so important. Having MCC here in solidarity with us is a blessing from God.”