As Hurricane Sandy barrelled toward the U.S. East Coast Oct. 29, the full extent of the storm’s havoc on Haiti was just beginning to emerge.
Extensive damage to crops throughout the southern third of the country, as well as the high potential for a spike in cases of cholera and other water-borne diseases, could mean Haiti will see the deadliest effects of Sandy in the coming days and weeks.
Haiti reported the highest death toll in the Caribbean, as swollen rivers and landslides claimed at least 52 lives, according to the country’s Civil Protection office. More than three days of constant rain left roads and bridges heavily damaged, cutting off access to several towns and a key border crossing with the Dominican Republic.
“The economy took a huge hit,” Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe told Reuters. He also said Sandy’s impact was devastating, “even by international standards,” adding that Haiti was planning an appeal for emergency aid.
“Most of the agricultural crops that were left from Hurricane Isaac were destroyed during Sandy,” he said, “so food security will be an issue.”
Sandy also destroyed banana crops in eastern Jamaica as well as decimating the coffee crop in eastern Cuba.
But the widespread loss of crops and supplies in the south, both for commercial growers and subsistence farmers, is what Haitian authorities and aid organizations had worried about most.
The past several months have seen a series of nationwide protests and general strikes over the rising cost of living. Even before Hurricane Sandy hit, residents complained that food prices were too high.
Peasant crop losses
Jean Debalio Jean-Jacques, the Ministry of Agriculture’s director for the southern department, said he worried that the massive crop loss “could aggravate the situation.”
“The storm took everything away,” said Jean-Jacques. “Everything the peasants had in reserve — corn, tubers — all of it was devastated. Some people had already prepared their fields for winter crops and those were devastated.”
In the capital, Port-au-Prince, Sandy destroyed concrete homes and tent camps alike, where 370,000 victims of the 2010 earthquake are still living. Haitian authorities said 18,000 families were left homeless in the disaster.
Aid organizations began reporting a sharp rise in suspected cholera cases in several departments, with at least 86 new cases alone coming from Port-au-Prince’s earthquake survivor camps, according to Dr. Juan Carlos Gustavo Alonso of the Pan American Health Organization. Many communities are still cut off and only accessible by helicopter, he said, so the broader rise in cholera was “still too early to tell.”
Both the Haitian state and international aid organizations distributed food, water and other items to affected camps and communities throughout the weekend, including personal distributions by President Michel Martelly.
“These stocks are running dangerously low,” said George Ngwa, spokesman for OCHA, a humanitarian co-ordinating body in Haiti. “After Tropical Storm Isaac in August, these stocks have not been replenished. What we’re doing is scraping the bottom.”