A girl uses one of the chlroine dispensers Oxfam installed in Haiti. Photo by Elizabeth Stevens/Oxfam
When I look at pictures of Haiti’s countryside, I’m always struck by how beautiful much of the landscape is, particularly in the rice-growing region along the Artibonite River. But then I think about the grim underside of that beauty—the cholera that can so easily course through rivers like the Artibonite, spreading sickness and death.
The outbreak that started 10 months after a devastating earthquake in 2010 has now claimed more than 7,000 lives and sickened more than half a million people—as if Haiti needed any more trouble heaped on its citizens. The cholera epidemic is reportedly the largest in modern history, and it’s been in the news a lot lately. The New York Times ran a lengthy story early this month and yesterday, NPR filed its own report on the urgent health problem.
The heart of the trouble is the almost complete lack of functioning water and sanitation systems across the country. Many people are pretty much on their own when it comes to providing water for their families: They lug it home from wherever they can find it, and in the rural areas that’s often streams and rivers. Whether it’s fit for drinking—and cholera-free—can be hard for families to determine. Read the rest of this entry »
Oxfam's Elie Saint-Cyr talks to villagers about chlorinating water. Photo by Toby Adamson/Oxfam
Sophie Martin Simpson is an Oxfam monitoring and evaluation officer in Haiti. She wrote this account after a visit to Artibonite province, where Oxfamis working hard to stem the spread of cholera.
I recently returned from two days with our cholera response team in the region of Petit Riviere in Artibonite. I was there to support our team and to collect information from the local population about existing water sources, their access to basic hygiene facilities such as showers and latrines, and their knowledge about cholera and cholera prevention. The first cases of cholera were reported in Artibonite in October and the region continues to be one of the worst hit by the outbreak. As such, it is a focus for Oxfam’s cholera response.
I visited rural communities and talked with people, some of whom proudly showed me their newly constructed family latrines. Before Oxfam began its cholera response program, the majority of communities lacked toilet facilities.
In a number of locations, Oxfam has additionally set up ORS (oral rehydration solution) “corners“ ORS is the most effective way to keep people with cholera hydrated until the cholera-causing bacteria has passed through the body. Community volunteers, trained in treating water to ensure it is safe to drink, in hand-washing practices, and in ORS preparation, staff these sites. If community members suspect they have cholera, they can get instant assistance from the corner volunteer who supplies them with enough ORS and clean water to ensure they stay hydrated on their journey to hospital. Oxfam staffers carry out regular spot checks of these corners to ensure the quality of the treated water and that ORS is being prepared correctly. Read the rest of this entry »
Men use a hand auger to drill a well in Haiti. Photo by Tom Mahin/Oxfam
Tom Mahin, a drinking water specialist, flew to Haiti recently to help Oxfam stem the spread of a cholera outbreak that has now reached every province of the country. Here, he recounts some of the challenges of that work.
I arrived a few days ago in the Artibonite Valley in Haiti to work with Oxfam on its response to the cholera outbreak. My focus is on drinking water. The valley is much different than Port-au-Prince where I worked for Oxfam for five weeks after the January 2010 earthquake. Here, it is greener and much less congested, but the valley is also where the cholera outbreak has been the worst. Lack of adequate safe drinking water in villages is a major problem for people, now even more so because of the cholera outbreak.
One of my first tasks was to accompany an Oxfam public health engineer to sites selected for some new wells to provide safe drinking water—key to preventing the spread of cholera– and to see the drilling of wells underway. Oxfam has contracted with two local drilling companies to do the work. The companies don’t rely on expensive drilling rigs: They mostly use hand augers, though sometimes workers dig the wells by hand because rocks make the use of augers impossible. Read the rest of this entry »
It took me all year, but I finally made it to Haiti earlier this month. It’s a fascinating and beautiful country facing some daunting challenges, and it was an honor for me to participate in Oxfam’s response to the earthquake and the cholera epidemic.
The best moments of the trip were meeting with entrepreneurs rebuilding their businesses right out of the rubble of their homes and their lives. We met one woman named Carole who runs a small shop in the Carrefour Feuilles district in Port-au-Prince out of a small shipping container on the ruins of her home. She painted it pink on the inside. “I just like pink,” she says. She now lives in what used to be a warehouse next door. The roof leaks so much, when it rains, she says, “it’s like being outside.”
“Oxfam is the only one who came here,” she says. We gave her the shipping container, set it up on her land, and helped her with a grant to stock it with drinks, toilet paper, matches, and canned goods. “It put joy in my heart,” she says, “If it weren’t for this container, I don’t know when I would be on my feet…” Now, she says, “I’m on my way.” Read the rest of this entry »
The rain dropped by Hurricane Tomas across Haiti has created perfect conditions for the spread of cholera. Photo by Eduardo Munoz, courtesy www.alertnet.org
The relief that Oxfam staffers felt after Hurricane Tomas doused Haiti earlier this month was short-lived. They knew it would be, says Julie Schindall, an Oxfam press officer based in Haiti.
Though the storm caused limited physical damage, the rain it dumped has created the perfect conditions for another frightening problem: the spread of cholera, a deadly waterborne disease.
“Our staff knew, after decades of working in cholera epidemics around the world, that we hadn’t actually escaped a disaster after the storm,” writes Schindall in a piece posted with Channel 4 News. “As the floodwaters receded, the cholera outbreak that started in central Haiti in late October began its vicious spread.” Read the rest of this entry »
Hurricane Tomas dumped plenty of rain on the displaced residents of Haiti’s capital over the weekend where countless families continue to live in tents and under tarps in crowded camps scattered across the city. They’ve been there since the January 12 earthquake destroyed their homes. As Tomas churned toward Port-au-Prince, fear of another catastrophe ran high.
But after the storm, Oxfam aid workers reported that damage was minimal to the water and sanitation facilities in the camps where we work—a huge relief (you could hear it in the tone of their messages) since access to clean water and sanitation services is essential in helping to ensure the health of people in the camps.
And there’s no doubt that the preparedness work Oxfam did in advance—including digging drainage ditches, clearing canals, and securing water tanks and latrines—helped keep these critical systems intact.
In Artibonite province, where most of the hospitalizations have occurred, Oxfam has launched a major response to combat the outbreak. We have a team of about 25 staffers working in an area called Petite Riviere, with a population of around 100,000. We’ve been distributing water purification tablets and powder, soap, buckets, and oral rehydration salts to about 40,000 people. We’re also carrying out a massive education campaign on how to prevent the spread of the disease. Good hygiene and access to clean drinking water are key.
Workers handle buckets to help with Oxfam's cholera response in Haiti. Photo by Julie Schindall/Oxfam
Julie Schindall, an Oxfam press officer, traveled to Haiti’s cholera-stricken province of Artibonite on Sunday. Here’s what she saw.
In central Haiti, the Artibonite province is awash in water. Driving through the cholera-stricken region on Sunday—day three of our emergency cholera response—I see water everywhere: rice paddies, irrigation canals, small rivers, cesspools, and puddles.
As we head inland toward our work site, we stop for directions. I hop out of the car to take a phone call. As I speak on live radio to audiences in the UK, I look down and see a dead pig lying in stagnant water. A few yards away a mother washes clothes as her naked children play in the yard. The heat burns my neck, and I stare, transfixed, at all this water. None of it is safe to drink.
Even before the disastrous quake of January 12, fewer than 20 percent of Haitians had access to a toilet. Only half had safe drinking water. These statistics run through my head as we roll down the road to reach our team of public health experts dispatched to Petite Riviere, population 100,000. Read the rest of this entry »
When I close my eyes, I can still see the rubble art. Bright fragments–now scattered across a table in the back room of the Miami, Florida, community group Konbit for Haiti–these chunks of concrete were salvaged from the streets of Port-au-Prince after the January earthquake. Now, each painted with a different scene, they hummed with a kind of contained energy: dancing human figures, trees bending in the wind, a seed bursting from its pod.
Beside me, Leonie Hermantin explained that a Miami-based non-profit had brought the pieces here to sell at an upcoming art show. All the proceeds will go back to the artists, she said—back to Haiti.
“The epidemic is not this natural disaster,” said Hermantin, deputy director of the Lambi Fund of Haiti. “It is something that comes from poverty, and a lack of government planning. … It is rooted in the neglect of rural communities.”
Below, Aschkenasy, Oxfam’s public health specialist, writes about the second day of their five-day trip.
I am always so tired at the end of the day in Mudzi, a region in the northeast part of the country where Oxfam has been working on the cholera outbreak. After a two-hour car ride from Harare we arrived at the Pumpkin Hotel–the only hotel in this region. We settled in (Emile got the suite with the waterbed, and I got the one next door) and had some lunch: Eggs and sadza, a finely ground cornmeal boiled in water.
After lunch, we headed out to look at a bore hole–a narrow well drilled deep into the ground. Mudzi has hundreds of them. They’re the source of drinking water for many people in this rural region. This one was a half-hour-drive away on a bumpy, dry road–and when we arrived, we found hundreds of community members waiting for us.
Villagers work on repairing a broken well, known as a bore hole, in the Mudzi district of Zimbabwe.
I have just returned from Zimbabwe where a cholera outbreak has now sickened more than 80,000 people and killed more than 3,700 of them. Clean water and public health education are critical in fighting the spread of this disease. Oxfam and its local partner, Single Parents Widow(er)s Support Network, are providing both of those things. Below are a couple of audio blogs that capture some of that work.
In the first blog, public health educators are singing a song–one of several they use–to two large gatherings of villagers. The song is in Shona and it’s advising people who use the bush as a bathroom to properly cover their feces afterwards. The second audio blog tells the story of Ronald Marozva, an engineer who travels around rural Mudzi repairing the broken wells so many people depend on.
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