The massive earthquake that struck Haiti's densely populated interior nearly a year ago could scarcely have found a more vulnerable target. Battered by political violence for much of its history, the island nation, the poorest in the Western hemisphere, lacks the infrastructure to respond to such crises. It had still not recovered from the four tropical storms of 2008, which damaged its transportation network and the agriculture sector on which two-thirds of its population depends.
International aid missions found about 1.5 million displaced Haitians living in improvised tent cities and camps. Overcrowding, impure drinking water, improper sanitation, and contaminated food make such conditions breeding grounds for disease. When cholera, never before reported in Haiti, first broke out in October, it soon reached epidemic proportions. Rising floodwaters in the wake of Hurricane Tomas abetted its spread. According to UN estimates, by mid-December the death toll had reached 2,400, and as many as 600,000 may be affected.
Cholera causes severe dehydration and can kill within 48 hours, but properly administered, treatment can be simple and effective. "Untreated cholera has a mortality rate of 50-60 percent," says Ella R. Gudwin, vice president of emergency response for AmeriCares. "If treatment is widely available, the mortality rate can be lowered to just one percent."
AmeriCares, an international nonprofit relief organization that arrived in Haiti days after the earthquake to begin a three- to five-year reconstruction program, is coordinating humanitarian efforts to respond to the cholera epidemic through treatment and education.
Gudwin explains, "The Haitian people lack two critical things to combat cholera: clean water and education about prevention and early symptoms should they fall victim to infection."
TPRF, which has assisted relief efforts in Haiti on several occasions over the past few years, responded to this latest crisis with a $40,000 grant to AmeriCares. The funds are being used to provide clean drinking water to over 38,800 people for a month to help them remain healthy during the epidemic.
Curtis Welling, President and CEO of AmeriCares, writes, “I am very grateful to TPRF for empowering our team to continue this life saving work. As this is TPRF’s second grant to AmeriCares, let me also convey our sincere gratitude for the continued trust you are placing in us to see that TPRF’s humanitarian objectives are realized.”
Photos courtesy of AmeriCares.