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Will Haiti be spared another disaster?

Health officials are investigating suspected new cases of cholera in three new areas of Haiti, all lying closer to Port-au-Prince. Aid agencies are concerned that though the number of deaths has slowed, the outbreak could still spread to the capital. Sarah Jacobs, a representative from Save the Children, said that 174 new cases had been reported in the new regions around Arcahaie. This village lies about an hour’s drive from Port-au-Prince.

Save the Children has a health clinic in the area and has been distributing bars of soap through the schools. Aid workers are doing all they can to ensure local women know what hygiene measures are needed to prevent cholera. However, after speaking with women at the clinic, Ms Jacobs says the Haitians are naturally becoming extremely anxious for their health, as well as the safety of their children.

Workers in the capital report a growing sense of anxiety in the camps, where families are already living in stressful and overcrowded conditions. Hearing constant messages about this ‘killer disease’ is causing real fear. Because cholera is so contagious and can spread extremely quickly, the Haitian government has been putting up banners and posters everywhere and people with megaphones promote hygiene through the streets. However, in some slum areas, with no access to fresh water, people continue to use dirty water to wash and prepare their food. One woman said that although they were being told what to do, they had not received any help or the supplies necessary to take preventative measures.

As if the prospect of cholera is not enough to frighten people, Haitians may face another threat this week. On Sunday, the authorities warned all those living in the camps that they might have to seek alternative shelter later this week. The path of hurricane Tomas is projected to fall across Haiti as this weather system sweeps across the Caribbean. Although Tomas has for the moment been downgraded from a Category 1 hurricane to a tropical storm, the National Hurricane Centre has warned it may regain strength as it passes over the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

An estimated 1.3 million Haitians are still living in tents and these temporary shelters are inadequate to withstand strong winds. Previous storms have already left a handful of people dead after hitting the camps, which flood after heavy rains. Already stretched by coping with the cholera epidemic, aid agencies will be hoping the storm may lose some of its strength or veer off its current path. Haiti needs all the good fortune it can get.

Laurinda Luffman signature