Situation in Haiti worsening, Georgieva warns

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The situation in earthquake-hit Haiti, now hit by a cholera outbreak that has claimed more than 1,000 lives, is likely to get worse before it gets better, Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva told the press yesterday (18 November).

The number of people affected by cholera has been growing very rapidly, Georgieva told the Brussels press. Health authorities in Haiti had reported 1,110 casualties and 18,382 people affected, said the commissioner, quoting latest data.

What is particularly worrisome is that cholera is now present in six of the seven communes in Port au Prince, where 46 people have died and 953 have contracted the infection, she said.

The commissioner explained that the spread of the epidemics carried greater risks in the capital and in areas affected by the earthquake, where people were living in camps.

Georgieva said that epidemiologists anticipated the outbreak would continue to spread throughout the country and resources would be required for the next six months at least in order to fight it.

Awareness campaign vs. Instigating fear

The public health system is overwhelmed, and there is a need for a massive awareness campaign about what [cholera] is and how it should be fought, she said.

Many Haitians reportedly blame United Nations peacekeepers for having brought the disease. On Tuesday (16 November), violence erupted in the northern cities of Cap-Haitien and Hinche where angry demonstrators blocked roads, threw rocks and shouted anti-UN slogans. One civilian was shot and six peacekeepers were injured.

The UN in return blamed political and criminal "spoilers" for attacks on UN peacekeepers, saying those agitators sought to sabotage the presidential elections due on 28 November by manipulating public fear over the cholera epidemic.

Georgieva said it sometimes proved difficult for humanitarian workers to establish treatment centres, because the population was worried that this would bring cholera rather than treat it.

In careful terms, she expressed concern over the working conditions of humanitarian workers and admitted that the looming elections were another risk factor.

Aid in kind needed

The tasks on the ground range from saving lives, providing treatment to those affected, increasing access to clean water and better hygiene, raising awareness across the population and providing advice to the local authorities, Georgieva explained.

Upon Haiti's request, the European Commission has requested member countries to provide concrete assistance and the EU executive's services have been co-financing the transportation of assistance from member countries, she added.

The commissioner made clear that further contributions were urgently needed to fill gaps in health, water sanitation, hygiene and logistics. It is not a matter of money, she said.

Asked by EURACTIV to specify what civil society could contribute, since financial aid was apparently not needed, Georgieva confirmed the need for more concrete assistance in the form of mobile water purification units and water purification tablets, for example.

As for civil society, she said the help of NGOs with language skills and expertise on how to train local people on the ground about awareness of epidemics were of particular importance.

She also explained that more efforts were needed in areas that were not affected by the earthquake, where the humanitarian effort was less present.

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere and has experienced a lot of political violence throughout its history.

In February 2004, an armed rebellion forced the resignation and exile of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. A provisional government was put in place, with security provided by MINUSTAH, the United Nations Stabilisation Mission in Haiti. Rn Prval, the current president, was elected in 2006.

Scientists said the earthquake which hit Haiti on 12 January was the strongest on Earth since 1770. The damage was high, as the catastrophic 7.0 magnitude epicentre was just 10 miles west of Port-au-Prince and itstwo million inhabitants.

The Haitian government reports that between 217,000 and 230,000 people died. The devastation was widespread. Vital infrastructure was destroyed, including telecommunications,every hospital in the capital, and air, sea and land communication services.

In April, international donors, among the largest of which was the EU, promised a total of 7.3 billion euros for the reconstruction of earthquake-hit Haiti at a conference in New York.

  • 28 Nov.: Presidential elections in Haiti.

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