.- The situation of earthquake victims in Haiti continues to improve, but cholera is still a problem and the upcoming hurricane season poses a “major threat.”
“Historically, we know that Haiti is disproportionately vulnerable to hurricanes and that even tropical storms or just heavy rain can cause serious damage – in areas unaffected by the earthquake as well as in the camps, which are acutely vulnerable,” Jean Daniel Lafontant, Catholic Relief Services’ Haiti communications officer, told CNA on June 3.
In late April, unexpected heavy rains and strong winds flooded parts of metropolitan Port-au-Prince, damaging or destroying more than 1,550 emergency shelters and tents.
During the hurricane season those living in camps are also at greater risk of cholera, which is mainly spread through water.
While cholera is increasing in some departments of Haiti, the overall caseload continues to “decrease or stabilize.” At the end of March, hospitalizations for the illness stabilized at about 2,000 per week. As of April 19, 280 cholera treatment facilities and 760 oral rehydration points were working throughout the 10 departments of Haiti.
“The relief effort continues to gain momentum,” Lafontant said. “The number of people living in tent camps has decreased.”
Relief agencies are helping families resettle into their communities by providing transitional shelters, water and sanitation services, and business assistance.
CRS has been preparing for hurricanes since the first weeks of the earthquake. It has assessed at-risk camps and neighborhoods, dug drainage channels, sandbagged hills and moved the most vulnerable populations to more secure areas.
The agency has started to stockpile emergency supplies and has created an emergency response team of 45 experts.
The “relative tranquility” following the national elections helped CRS teams make good progress in providing transitional shelters for hundreds of Haitians, many of whom have been living in tents since the earthquake. The agency completed 806 transitional shelters in April alone, while also starting on the demolition of uninhabitable homes in Port-au-Prince neighborhoods.
Meanwhie, Mayor Wilson Jeudy of Delmas city in the Port-au-Prince area has begun clearing out some of the camps on the grounds that they have become staging areas for crime.
The January 2010 earthquake left about 1.5 million people homeless. While the Haitian government put the number of dead at 316,000, an unreleased draft report from the U.S. Agency for International Development puts the death toll at between 46,000 and 85,000, the Associated Press reports. The study says no more than 375,000 people are still living on the streets, though other estimates range as high as 680,000.
However, the State Department said the report has “inconsistencies” and was not ready for release.
Lafontant said that there are 12 Caritas member organizations working in Haiti, including CRS and Caritas Haiti. Eight organizations have their own staff and operations.
“There is a strong history and presence of the Catholic Church in Haiti,” he explained. The Church has been a “mainstay” in sponsoring education and up to half of Haitian primary school children attend Catholic schools.
The Church also operates numerous hospitals and health centers.
“Catholic Relief Services supports the Haitian Church structure in many of the health, education and justice initiatives,” he said. “Please keep the people of Haiti in your prayers.”
The agency has a special website discussing its work in Haiti and how to support it at http://hopeforhaiti.crs.org.