As Haiti begins to recover from Hurricane Matthew, one of the worst storms to hit the Caribbean nation in decades, concerns are growing over public health risks and the ways in which foreign aid may interfere with relief efforts.
The death toll from Matthew is currently estimated to be at least 1,000 people, many of whom have had to be buried in mass graves, Reuters reported this week. United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon on Monday called for $120 million in assistance for Haiti, which is now facing a cholera outbreak at a time when the hurricane's destruction has left many villages difficult to reach.
"Tensions are already mounting as people await help. A massive response is required. UN teams are working with local officials to assess needs," Ban said.
However, the legacy of foreign aid in Haiti has left many residents fearful of large organizations like the American Red Cross (ARC) descending on the impoverished island. As Pro Publica and NPR revealed in a joint investigation last year, when Haiti was hit with a devastating earthquake in 2010, the ARC raised half a billion dollars in aid and built a grand total of six new homes.
Many observers, including award-winning Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat and Haiti-based NGO expert Mark Schuller, are urging those eager to support Matthew relief efforts to donate to local grassroots groups instead of the ARC and other massive organizations. Danticat listed a handful of groups in a Facebook post over the weekend, including the Gaskov Clerge Foundation, Fondation Aquin Solidarite, the Three Little Flowers Center, Paradis des Indiens, and Project Saint Anne, among others.
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In an interview with Democracy Now! last week, she predicted an "ongoing disaster" in post-Matthew Haiti.
Relief efforts are expected to be further complicated by the risk of a cholera outbreak. Matthew has increased the risk of a renewed jump in cases, and according to health officials on the ground, there has already been an uptick since the hurricane hit. In Jeremie, one of the most impacted cities in the country's south coast, where 80 percent of buildings were destroyed, the Saint Antoine Hospital has already taken in 43 people for cholera, news outlets reported. According to the Guardian, as of Monday, the open-air treatment center at the hospital still had no running water. More remote areas are at even greater risk.
According to the World Health Organization, it can take anywhere from 12 hours to five days for cholera symptoms to appear. The virus can cause vomiting and diarrhea, which, if not treated quickly, can lead to severe dehydration and death. The disease was introduced to Haiti in 2010 by the U.N., which only acknowledged its role in the spread earlier this year.
"There's no water, no antibiotics," one resident, Herby Jean, told the Associated Press the coastal village of Dame Marie. "Everything is depleted.... We hear helicopters flying overhead, but we're not getting anything."
Out of more than 2 million Haitians affected by the hurricane, the U.N. estimates that 1.4 million are in need of assistance.