Haiti: unarmed in the fight against cholera, death toll passes 500

Cholera poster Haiti

Cholera prevention poster in Haiti. In reality clean water, sanitation and nearby health clinics are absent in most rural communities. Photo: PAHO

Safe water and sanitation, vital tools to combat the current cholera epidemic, are absent in most communities  in Haiti, reports IRIN. The death toll rose to 501 on 6 November 2010, up from 442 on 3 November, and hospitalisations for cholera totaled 7,359, up from 6,742.

Haiti is one of the few countries in the world where both urban and rural sanitation coverage has steadily decreased between 1990 and 2008, according to the WHO / UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) for Water Supply and Sanitation (WHO/UNICEF, March 2010).

Historical legacies of inequality, corruption, and extreme poverty all contribute to the Haitian government’s systemic inability to deliver safe water and sanitation.

In the village of Deslandes in the Petite Rivière d’Artibonite District, there is one well for 600 people that rarely functions, there are no toilets and reaching the nearest health centre requires crossing a river.

Most people use the River Artibonite – thought to be the source of the epidemic – as their primary source of drinking, bathing and laundry water.

“Everyone uses the river,” resident Melinda Sineas told IRIN. “But the river is dangerous now.”

In Deslandes, open defecation is the rule.

“When people get sick they relieve themselves in the woods like all of us,” Deslandes resident Ovid Floville, 50, told IRIN. “[Once they are too weak] and cannot stand any more, they stay at home and their whole body gets covered in diarrhoea.”

He said people scrub their homes with river water. NGOs have brought bleach and other supplies to nearby villages but Deslandes is isolated and access difficult, noted local pastor Solomon Tomas.

In the absence of safe water and sanitation, NGOs like the Boston-based Partners in Health (PIH) are trying to cope by handing out soap and water purification tablets.

PIH and three other institutions in 2008 published a report [1] about the widespread lack of access to clean water in Haiti. This lack, the report said, “ranks as one of Haiti’s most significant obstacles when it comes to meeting basic human rights standards. Historical legacies of inequality, disempowered or corrupt governance, and persistent levels of extreme poverty have all contributed to the Haitian government’s systemic inability to deliver clean water to its people.”

[PIH chief medical officer Joia Mukherjee] said developing a water and sanitation system must be the job of government. Since the January 2010 earthquake PIH has been wary about how little funding the government has received, she said. “The infrastructure cannot be done by an NGO. It’s important to assist the government in getting some of the resources coming in – that’s critical.”

[1] Vaira, M.K. .. [et al.] (2008). Wòch nan soley : the denial of the right to water in Haiti. Health and human rights ; vol. 10, no. 2. View abstract and link to full text [open source].

For the latest on Haitian cholera outbreak see:

Source: IRIN, 04 Nov 2010 ; AFP / ReliefWeb, 06 Nov 2010

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One response to “Haiti: unarmed in the fight against cholera, death toll passes 500

  1. Safe water and sanitation, vital tools to combat the current cholera epidemic, are absent in most communities in Haiti, reports IRIN. The death toll rose to 501 on 6 November 2010, up from 442 on 3 November, and hospitalisations for cholera totaled 7,359, up from 6,742.
    There are nearly 1 billion people in the world who do not have access to potable water, and too often, like in Haiti, it is because of the difficulty in getting past the corruption of local governments, such as in Haiti. The sanitation issue remains horrible in Haiti and they truly need a level of reconstruction that takes them far beyond the shape their infrastructure was in prior to the earthquake nearly one year ago.

    And you are also right that extreme poverty is the overarching challenge to getting clean, safe drinking water to people.

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