Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Haiti: Improved Sanitation to Combat Cholera

The French Red Cross provides water, sanitation and toilets for 11,000 IDPs at the Centre d'Hebergement Provisoire Automica Dahaitsu in Port-au-Prince. Water buckets are lined up early in the morning as children wait until the water is distributed at noon everyday by community leaders in the camp. Credit: MINUSTAH

Sanitation conditions in camps for displaced people across Haiti have improved considerably over the past two months, following efforts to repair, maintain and replace latrines, according to humanitarian agencies there.

Earlier this year, the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) allocated US$3.5 million to UNICEF and the IOM to carry out sanitation projects to improve people’s access to waste disposal. The projects, which were launched in March, helped to upgrade and maintain sewage facilities in more than 120 camps in May.  The percentage of camps where open defecation is common has decreased by at least one-third since March.   

“CERF funding came at a critical time when our sanitation operations were running dangerously slow,” said Herbert Schembri, who coordinates humanitarian work on water and sanitation in Haiti. “Without this allocation, which was facilitated by the excellent coordination between OCHA, agencies and humanitarian NGOs, people would have been at a higher risk of contracting and dying from cholera, particularly during the rainy season.”

Many of the camp residents who were displaced by the devastating earthquake in 2010 have now left the camps to live in better housing or return to their homes, which have been repaired. More than 100,000 families are living in transitional shelters; 13,000 families have received help to repair their homes; and another 5,000 have benefitted from housing construction projects. Organizations including the International Organization for Migration (IOM), International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and the international NGO World Vision have helped about 14,000 families to move out of the camps through subsidized rental housing programmes.

Although the camp population has decreased by 75 per cent since the peak of displacement in July 2010, more than 390,000 Haitians still live in camps. Many of these people face the threat of cholera in areas where sanitation conditions are still very poor.

Government figures show an increase in the average number of new cholera cases from 61 per day during the first three weeks of March to 227 during the same three-week period in June. IFRC recently warned that cholera could turn into a major emergency in the next few months unless resources are provided to prevent and treat the outbreak.  

The cholera epidemic has claimed more than 7,000 lives and affected over half a million people since it began in October 2010. Health partners continue to support Government efforts to contain and fight the disease by administering oral dehydration salts to the sick, distributing water chlorination products and disinfecting areas affected by the outbreak. But funding for these vital health, water and sanitation services remain low.

The 2012 humanitarian appeal for Haiti is the least funded in the world. Only 19 per cent of the required US$230 million has been received so far to provide live-saving aid and promote recovery efforts.

Life for most Haitians is a constant struggle for clean water. And now that cholera has invaded Haiti, safe drinking water has become Haiti's most urgent public health problem. The disease has killed more than 7,000 people since late 2010.

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