A 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck southwest Haiti on August 14, leaving an estimated 650,000 people in need of assistance on the Tiburon Peninsula.
More than 2,200 people have died and some 12,200 people were injured in the hardest-hit areas of Grand’Anse, Nippes and Sud.
Sixty-six health facilities have been damaged or destroyed.
The increased risk of COVID-19 infections due to displacement and low COVID-19 vaccination rates are a major concern, as is the potential for an outbreak of cholera.
On August 14, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck the Tiburon Peninsula of Haiti, approximately 77 miles (125 kilometers) west of the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince. The earthquake, which was more powerful than the 7.0-magnitude quake that devastated Port-au-Prince in 2010, registered intensities between 6 and 9 degrees on the Modified Mercalli Scale (MMI) in five Haitian departments.
According to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), as of August 27, more than 2,200 people died as a result of the quake, while more than 12,200 people have been injured and hundreds remain missing. The Haitian Civil Protection General Directorate, the department primarily responsible for risk and disaster management in Haiti, reports that more than 137,000 families are affected in Grand'Anse, Nippes and Sud, and that 40% of Haiti’s total population is in need of humanitarian assistance. Nearly 61,000 homes have been destroyed, while 76,000 have sustained damage. In addition, Haiti was also struck by Tropical Storm Grace on August 16 and 17, triggering flooding in the earthquake-affected community of Les Caye, further slowing relief efforts.
In the most hard-hit departments of Grand’Anse, Nippes and Sud, 66 health facilities have been affected, disrupting the availability of healthcare services in the region, with 38 facilities damaged and 28 severely damaged or completely destroyed. The destruction of health facilities leaves residents with long distances to travel to access care. Before the earthquake, Haiti’s healthcare system was already strained. According to the World Bank, the country ranks in the bottom 24 nations when it comes to hospital beds, with its 0.7 beds per 1,000 people putting it on par with Sudan and Yemen.
During the first year of the pandemic, the country reported relatively low infection and death rates from COVID-19, despite a limited public health system and social distancing policies. However, in May the country experienced a spike in infections. By June 13, the average number of daily cases had more than doubled, and hospitals treating those suffering from COVID-19 were reportedly forced to turn patients away due to lack of beds and equipment. To date, the country has recorded almost 21,000 cases and 589 deaths. Experts warn that this is an undercount due to severely limited testing capacity and that two “variants of concern”—the alpha and gamma variants—have been detected in the country. As a result of the surge, the Haitian government re-established its COVID-19 task force and submitted a request for 130,000 doses of vaccines from COVAX, the global vaccine-sharing initiative. However, resistance to vaccines remains high, fueled by rumors and misinformation. Only 1% of the country has been vaccinated as of August 20.
These emergencies are occurring on the heels of a political crisis. On July 7, Haitian President Jovenel Moise was assassinated, leading to increased violence that has resulted in displacement, disruptions in services and limited access to healthcare. In June, more than 13,600 people fled their homes in Port-au-Prince to escape clashes between rival gangs. Throughout the Tiburon Peninsula, gang violence has led to security threats and road blockages, making this region of Haiti largely inaccessible since June. The volatility has limited humanitarian access to the region; humanitarian convoys have been blocked twice. Humanitarian organizations responding to the earthquake have reported that police escorts have been necessary to ensure the safety of convoys and distribution sites.