It has been a year and a half since the earthquake devastated Haiti. The humanitarian response has saved millions of lives but hundreds of thousands of people are still homeless and in desperate need of basic amenities.
“Around 600,000 people displaced by the earthquake are still living in camps and are dependent on humanitarian aid for survival,” UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos told a press conference at United Nations Headquarters in New York, following a recent visit to Haiti.
“The humanitarian crisis in Haiti is not over,” insisted Amos. “That figure has gone down from 1.5 million last year. They are extremely vulnerable, facing food insecurity, the threat of cholera and, of course, natural disasters such as the current hurricane season.”
As Haitians continue to struggle to recover from the disaster, the cholera epidemic remains a serious threat, with 5,968 people killed by the disease as of August 2011, according to World Health Organization records. There is a “need to remain on high alert, particularly during this hurricane season as we know that more rain means more cholera,” Emmanuelle Schneider, public information officer for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Haiti, told MediaGlobal.
Schneider stressed that while the organization has made significant process in reducing the number of cholera cases by half, Haiti has received only 57 percent of the $382 million pledged in funding, money necessary to develop a more integrated emergency response system.
Due to lack of funding, some NGO partners have pulled out of projects and some out of the country altogether. The worsening situation, emphasized by a lack of safe water and adequate sanitation facilities, all pose significant health risks.
Haiti’s priority, Amos told the UN, is sanitation and the provision of safe drinking water. “Hundreds of latrines are now unusable and overflowing, posing a serious health risk,” she said, adding that better food security, violence, and forced evictions from camps are other critical concerns.
People who are frustrated at being in the camps for so long “want to leave but can’t afford to pay rent or repair their homes,” Amos explained, reporting that high levels of sexual and domestic violence continue to be prevalent.
OCHA HAITI : Many residents fear eviction from camps
Schneider also spoke about threats of forced evictions from the camps. “It is crucial that adequate alternative housing is made available,” she told MediaGlobal.
An estimated 121,405 people are living in camps under the threat of eviction, according to an OCHA bulletin, released September 2011. The same report showed a 400 percent increase in the number of camps dealing with eviction issues between July 2010-July 2011.
There is a “need to address the underlying structural challenges facing the country, including better governance and stronger socio-economic development in order to transition from the humanitarian crisis phase to sustainable recovery,” Scheneider said.
Amos’ appeal to the UN echoed Schneider’s sentiment. “We cannot forget the hundreds of thousands of people living in camps or affected by the cholera epidemic.” Amos concluded that, “Even as other crises demand our attention, we must also continue to keep our attention focused on Haiti.”