Just as ADT was preparing this article to address Haiti's recent cholera outbreak, another tradgedy looms in Haiti.

Cholerahaiti

The gloomy images and reports from Haiti after the January 12, 2010 earthquake have become perhaps all too familiar to the Western world.  Widely reported during the days and months immediately following the disaster, Haiti’s desperation seems to have become less and less of a concern in the American media.

And just as Haiti was beginning to address its cholera problem, it will have to postpone concerns of a possible outbreak to address a new, more pressing concern: Hurrican Tomas. Now a Category 1 hurricane, Tomas has already hit the islands of St. Lucia, Barbados, and St.Vincent. Although it caused considerable damage, no casualties were reported.

However, if Tomas makes landfall at Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, lacking infrastructure, proper housing, communication, and a range of other safety measures, Haiti will likely not be as lucky as its other, more well-structured, Caribbean neighbors.

And as Haiti scrambles to prepare for the hurricane and is still trying to recover from the January earthquake that killed over 300,000 people and left 1.3 million homeless, another disater has already arrived there: Cholera, a waterborne illness that causes severe dehydration and usually death if left untreated, has killed over 330 people within the past two weeks and sickened over 5,000. Cholera usually comes from food and water that has been contaminated with bacteria called Vibrio cholera. Each year, there are 3–5 million cholera cases and 100, 000–120, 000 deaths with most occurring in central and sub-Saharan Africa and other less developed countries. However, before this incident Haiti had not seen a cholera outbreak in over 100 years.    

Cholera is associated with urban areas and camps for displaced people, like the ones in Haiti, where lack of infrastructure and poor environmental management lead to poor sanitation and ideal conditions for bacteria development.

tomas-satellitexThe disease is actually not hard to treat and consists of oral rehydration salts or in severe cases, administrating intravenous fluids. But in Haiti’s case, several factors could affect the outcome: Since prevention comes from good sanitation practices, it will be essential to educate people on such practices as washing hands and proper food storage. But considering the level of desperation in Haiti, it is easy to imagine food safety and hygiene taking a back seat to more pressing concerns, not to mention a lack of food safety items that we in the West take for granted like clean water, soap, refrigeration, cooking thermometers, etc. And then there is Haiti’s lack of infrastructure. How will health officials or citizens communicate if there is an outbreak? Communication is essential in dealing with cholera as the disease can kill in just a few hours. How will medicines or sick persons be transported from camps to hospitals and vice versa? Who will continue to be fund and ensure treatment?

So far, the cholera cases have occurred in mostly rural areas. Medical and aid workers biggest fear is that the disease will reach Port-au-Prince where over 1.3 million people live, many in camps that provide ideal conditions for a massive outbreak where the disease could spread rapidly killing hundreds of thousands of people. Now the massive number of people in these camps must prepare for another natural disaster.

More recent reports claim that the outbreak has tapered off, but this doesn’t mean that the worry is over; Nigel Fisher, a United Nations (UN) Humanitarian Coordinator in Haiti stated that “based on experience with epidemics elsewhere, it would be irresponsible to plan for anything but a considerably wider outbreak,"

Meanwhile, deputy director of Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the regional branch of the World Health Organization (WHO), Jon Andrus, stated that “the surge of cases will come down but there will probably be cases in the future, now that the bacteria is well established in the environment.”

Aid workers and officials are now scrambling to prevent and treat outbreaks. Five treatment centers are being set up in Artibonite region, the rural area where the outbreak is said to have begun, and six treatment centers are being set up in the capital. Aided by the World Health Organization, the Haitian government is launching an anti-cholera campaign. However, confidence in government seems low: “They do nothing," said  a 33-year-old, Haitian taxi driver. “...They speak of cleaning it all up, but look at how people live.”

haiticampIndeed, in the squalid camps where bathing, eating, and bodily waste all share close quarters, it is hard to imagine any quick solution to Haiti’s multitude of problems. And now, Hurricane Tomas is heading in Haiti's direction, and it could make landfall around the end of the week. People in Haiti's camps are the most vulnerable as they live in makeshift dwellings that will not withstand the 45 mph winds, rain, mudslides, and flooding that the hurricane could bring. The UN's Nigels Fisher stated that "this storm is approaching at a time when aid agencies in Haiti are already stretched to the limit."

While the Western media largely ignores the problem, citing benign numbers rather than calling citizens to action, Haitians still live in rubble. While affluent and influential black celebs who could bring light and positively impact the problem continue installing diamonds in their teeth rather than lending a hand, Haiti lives in squalor. While even average citizens of the African Diaspora could come together to raise funds to build schools or provide simple but indespensable items like hand sanatizer, Haiti waits in misery.

As ADT and other organizations dream of the day that they can help Haiti through sustainable tourism and other programs, that day seems far off as this new disaster for Haiti is dooming. Relief efforts are the only forms of tourism needed now.

To be sure, large sums of aid money poured into Haiti after the initial tradgedy and donations continue to roll in. However, Haiti needs more than temporary fixes and crutches. It needs education, infrastruture, and stability. And money alone cannot buy these. Leadership and a solid plan for action are perhaps what is lacking.

But with another impending catastrophe to prepare for in wake of two already devasting disasters, the situation in Haiti, to say the least, is more than desolate. "The humanitarian challenges involved are among the most complex I've seen in my entire career," admits Fisher.


Top Photo: AP/Ramon Espinosa
Bottom: Roosewelt Pinheiro/Abr; Agência Brasil