Post-hurricane Haiti: ‘People who had little before, now have nothing’

Special to

metzlerBy John J. Metzler

UNITED NATIONS — In early October, Hurricane Matthew slammed into Haiti. Torrential rains and high winds devastated parts of the already impoverished island, creating a humanitarian nightmare not seen since the 2010 earthquake.

The storm which killed over 550 people has affected nearly two million people causing dislocation, food and clean water shortages, and triggered an outbreak of Cholera.  Yet, humanitarian aid was quickly on the way from UN relief agencies and the USA, Canada, and European donors.

Haitians bathe and wash clothes in the aftermath of Hurrican Matthew. / CNN
Haitians bathe and wash clothes in the aftermath of Hurrican Matthew. / CNN

Haiti’s interim President Jocelerme Privert warned that Hurricane Matthew has left destruction on an apocalyptic scale.

Tragically in the midst of a humanitarian relief visit by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to the ravished island, mobs attacked UN aid convoys near Les Cayes.  A shaken Secretary General conceded, “We understand the impatience and the anger of the population who are waiting for emergency relief.  We are doing all we can to facilitate the arrival of the assistance as soon as possible.”

Haiti is a land stricken by a heart-breaking and cruel combination of corruption, dangerous political infighting, and cyclical natural disasters.  The 2010 earthquake caused 220,000 deaths and untold destruction. The recent Hurricane was but a tragic reminder of Haiti’s vulnerability.

According to Haiti’s Ministry of Interior, more than 19 percent of the Haitian population, two million persons, has been affected by the hurricane and more than 12 percent or  1.4 million persons, are in need of urgent assistance in different departments of the country,  most specially in the South.

The UN’s Humanitarian Country Team in Haiti, in close coordination with the government of Haiti, has appealed to the international community for US $120 million in emergency funding to provide life-saving relief to Haitians affected by the Category 4 Storm.

According to UN relief agencies, this emergency funding is needed “to meet the most urgent humanitarian needs of 750,000 people, including 315,000 children, for the next three months.”

David Pressman of the U.S. UN Mission stated, “Haiti needs assistance as soon as possible, and it is up to all of us to contribute.”  The U.S. made $1.3 million available for recovery efforts but this was a first step.

The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has published urgent Situation Reports outlining the specific needs for affected regions. The document lists areas of response in clean drinking water, emergency food and shelter for people primarily on Haiti’s long narrow southern coastline.

In addition to the humanitarian needs, over 300 schools have sustained severe damage.  Thirty- four Cholera treatment centers have been destroyed, this at a time when the island faces up to 1,800 suspected cases of the disease.  Flooding and infrastructural damage are widespread.

Member States and donor agencies are slowly responding to the appeal but the needs are increasingly urgent.  Of the $120 million requested only $26 million has been funded.  Sadly, part of this underwhelming response comes from the donor fatigue where a plethora of global crises both from conflicts and natural disasters have swamped the international community and dulled the collective senses to respond.

Addressing the Haitian humanitarian crisis, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon stated bluntly

“People who before had little, now have nothing.”

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has slated more than $12 million in additional humanitarian aid to help communities affected by Hurricane Matthew.  With this funding, the U.S. is providing nearly $14 million for immediate Hurricane relief efforts in Haiti, as well as in Jamaica, and The Bahamas.

Canada is contributing more than $2 million.  Japan is giving $3 million.  Aid given through a maze of private charitable organizations and church groups is not yet calculated.

Ironically, besides triggering a natural disaster, Hurricane Matthew also disrupted the final days before presidential elections were due to be held.  “The decision to postpone elections was unfortunate but understandable,” advised Britain’s delegate Matthew Rycroft, adding “Democracy was essential for Haiti’s path forward.”

Ambassador Joao Valde de Almeida of the European Union told the Security Council, that Haiti was in a state of great fragility. Political and institutional stability was an urgent necessity for the country.  A period of uncertainty persists and observers are calling for elections to be held at the earliest possible date.

The UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH ) has been on the ground since 2004.

Forces stand at 5,000, approximately half military and half police. This UN presence will provide a modicum of security in an already very dangerous situation, now and in the run to the planned elections.   Haiti needs help now!

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]