As the death toll in Haiti soars to more than 800 following Hurricane Matthew, humanitarian organizations including Handicap International face a race against the clock. Rising casualty numbers threaten to overwhelm the few health centers and hospitals not hit by the disaster. Large sections of the population are also at risk from epidemics.
Maritime traffic appears to have been restored in the south of Haiti, although only light vehicles can currently access Les Cayes, a city in the region of Sud severely affected by the disaster. The city of Jérémie in Grand’Anse, which has been almost entirely destroyed, remains impossible to access. It will be several days or weeks before all land routes reopen.
“We are working to supply immediate aid to survivors who have lost everything. Casualty numbers are high,” explains Hélène Robin, head of Handicap International’s emergency programs. “Our teams in the field have two priorities: to provide them with immediate and appropriate care to make sure they do not die from their injuries or develop permanent disabilities, and to supply people affected with the equipment they need to build a shelter and prepare food.”
More than 750,000 people need immediate humanitarian aid and first responders are expecting very heavy damage in the Grand-Anse and Sud regions, particularly in the cities of Jérémie and Les Cayes, according to the United Nations.
We are still waiting for information from Gonave Island and the northwest region, which are currently cut off from the rest of Haiti.
To supply humanitarian aid to the most isolated areas, Handicap International plans to reinstate its logistics platform which was originally set up in response to the hurricanes in 2008. The platform will be made available to all humanitarian organizations and will help redistribute aid centralized in Port-au-Prince to avoid overcrowding in the capital.
To assist families who have lost everything, Handicap International is preparing to distribute repair kits with ropes and sheets, among other items, to make emergency repairs to their homes, along with cooking kits. The organization also plans to distribute water purification tablets to avoid the spread of cholera and other waterborne diseases.
Handicap International trained 50 physical therapists in the wake of the 2010 earthquake, up from a dozen before the disaster. The emergency team will organize their deployment to provide functional rehabilitation treatment to casualties and provide them with follow-up care. Handicap International also expects to provide emergency psychosocial support to people traumatized by the disaster.