Haiti

Haiti earthquake response: Providing water, nutrition, mental health support

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It's been 11 days since the 7.2 magnitude earthquake decimated Haiti's southwestern region. Bridges and major roads were destroyed, hampering access to the most affected communities. Across the country, more than four million Haitians depended on humanitarian aid to meet their basic needs even before this most recent earthquake.

The earthquake, which was followed by Tropical Storm Grace, has hit the Haitian population with yet another crisis, exacerbating underlying poverty and weak infrastructure. The deadly combination of disasters has killed more than 2,200 people, injured 12,000 and affected an estimated two million people, nearly half of whom are children. Action Against Hunger is responding to meet the urgent needs for food, water, sanitation, and mental health support.

"We have seen total desolation, almost every house destroyed, roads destroyed, mountains falling in the road and blocking the way. Access to humanitarian aid is key. We need to continue our response to prevent the situation from worsening," says Roseval Supreme, Action Against Hunger's Country Director in Haiti, who recently returned from the south of the country, where the earthquake occurred.

One of the major challenges right now is establishing safe travel routes to the hardest-hit communities. "There is only one road connecting Port-au-Prince with the southern region, a road where violent gangs in the country operate. So, if the road is not secure, it is impossible to provide an optimal response," says Supreme.

THE MEDIUM-TERM IMPACT OF THE EMERGENCY

The earthquake, which was followed by Tropical Storm Grace, has hit the Haitian population with yet another crisis, exacerbating underlying poverty and weak infrastructure.

The most heavily impacted regions in the south are the country's major food production centers, particularly for rice, which is a staple food in the Haitian diet. Many of the irrigation systems for the area's rice fields have been damaged, resulting in heavy crop losses, jeopardizing rice supplies, and threatening food security.

"This is a challenge to be taken into account for medium- and long-term recovery, and a problem that needs to be solved as soon as possible so as not to threaten the next rice harvest," explains Supreme.

ADDRESSING WATER AND NUTRITION NEEDS

In the aftermath of the disaster, water infrastructure has been completely destroyed. "Our priority has been to support local authorities from the very beginning, especially DINEPA, the national water supply agency, to ensure access to safe water," says Noelia Monge, head of Action Against Hunger's emergency team coordinator in Haiti. We are addressing the lack of clean drinking water by distributing water purification tablets and providing technical assistance to ensure that they are utilized properly.

Action Against Hunger is highly concerned about the increased threat of malnutrition, especially among children. Our teams are organizing community kitchens and distributions of highly-fortified, nutritious biscuits for children under five years old.

PSYCHOSOCIAL SUPPORT A PRIORITY FOR A TRAUMATIZED POPULATION

"The population is in a state of shock. People were trying to rescue their neighbors and loved ones from the rubble knowing that there was little hope of finding survivors. We saw people on the side of the road with nothing, searching for their belongings in the ruins," says Supreme from Haiti.

Our teams are providing psychosocial support to earthquake victims and their families. "We are taking care of the victims, offering support to those who come to the hospital, as well as to frontline workers operating in the area. We are also organizing training for nurses, so that they can identify cases of post-traumatic stress and accompany these people in the mourning process," explains Véline Severe, who oversees Action Against Hunger's psychological support team in Haiti.

"Political and social instability, economic recession, and now this new crisis make all kinds of support necessary, because two million people living in the region have been impacted in one way or another," says Supreme. “People need to understand the magnitude of the event. More than 2,000 people have died and thousands have been injured. Major resources, infrastructure, and international solidarity are needed now more than ever.”

Action Against Hunger seeks to raise $9 million to support 300,000 people with nutrition, water, sanitation, and mental health services in the hardest-hit communities. Our teams have run nutrition, water, and sanitation programs – leading the fight to eradicate cholera – in Haiti since 1985. More than 99 percent of our staff in the country is Haitian.