Fighting Cholera and Supporting Farmers: Our Hurricane Matthew Response
"Hurricane Matthew hit our communities hard — we lost gardens, we lost animals, we lost houses,” shared Emmanuel Boisrond, a community leader from Wondo-Bikèt in Haiti’s Artibonite department, as he described what his community suffered when Hurricane Matthew, a Category 4 storm, struck Haiti on October 4th.
It is difficult to exaggerate the destruction caused by Hurricane Matthew. The United Nations (UN) estimates that 1.4 million people remain in need of essential services and support due to Matthew’s impact. Entire communities saw infrastructure and livelihoods collapse in the hurricane’s wake: trees were stripped bare; fields flooded; homes, schools, and health centers destroyed.
Though southwest Haiti received the full brunt of the storm, regions throughout the country suffered serious impacts. Mountaintop communities like Boisrond’s, where MCC has implemented a reforestation program for decades, lost homes, livestock and crops.
In the days immediately following the hurricane, MCC staff visited these isolated areas, trekking into communities that had received no outside post-hurricane assessment teams. MCC surveyed residents to assess their needs and provide support.
Together, local authorities, community members, MCC, and its partners crafted a response that provides much needed food assistance, agriculture support, and sanitation infrastructure to help hundreds of the families most at risk to recover from the hurricane’s impact.
Matthew’s heavy winds and rain led to the destruction of much needed health centers, latrines, and septic systems — all essential elements in the fight against cholera. Cholera, a primarily waterborne disease that spreads quickly in areas of poor sanitation, has plagued Haiti since 2010 when UN peacekeepers’ contaminated waste was negligently released into Haiti’s main waterway. At least 9,500 Haitians have since died. The outbreak began in a town bordering the Artibonite, and the region remains a stronghold of cholera transmission.
Since Matthew, there has been a surge in reported cholera cases, and there is widespread concern that the number will rise dramatically if preventative measures aren’t taken quickly. Residents of Wopisa, another Artibonite community, lost their few latrines to the hurricane, and they fear the disease’s resurgence; up to thirty percent of their community has already contracted the disease. For remote communities like Wopisa that are reachable only by foot or donkey, it can take hours for the sick to reach the nearest health center, by which time it may be too late.
To address the immediate need to improve sanitation, MCC is providing materials and expert oversight for 250 families across eight communities to build latrines. Families will also receive hygiene training and supplies. Jean Remy Azor, the program director for MCC’s reforestation program, shared, “When I told the community leader [about the latrine project] he started crying. They have lost so much [already] to cholera and other diseases. After the Hurricane they are so afraid of cholera coming back in a big way, but these latrines give hope that this will not happen.”
In addition to threats to health, communities are facing another grave concern: how to feed their families. Haiti, an already food insecure nation, is facing a widespread crisis as smallholder farmers have lost large percentages of their crops.
In the commune where Wondo and Bikèt are situated, MCC and community leaders’ post-storm assessment found that an estimated 2,322 acres of crops were lost and 3,240 animals killed, leaving families in need of both immediate assistance and long-term support to rebuild and improve their farming plots.
MCC is drawing upon nearly 60 years of experience in combating food insecurity in Haiti to work with families in Wondo and Bikèt. In the short term, MCC is distributing locally procured food, including corn, beans, rice, and chickens, to 125 vulnerable families. They will also receive seedlings for fast-growing crops like tomatoes, eggplant, and moringa that can produce in just three months’ time.
For long-term revitalization of families’ land, MCC will draw upon its practices with other communities in the region by organizing families into cooperative groups that help each other rebuild fencing, implement soil conservation techniques taught by MCC staff, and prepare the soil for planting.
“This new project in Wondo-Bikèt will allow parents to feed their children and rebuild their garden,” Boisrond explained. “To families that lost everything, knowing that they can plant again is so important. Having MCC here in solidarity with us is a blessing from God.”