With Hurricane Tomas bearing down on Haiti and expected to make landfall on Friday, Oxfam is worried about the ability of the humanitarian community to mount a third simultaneous emergency response in Haiti while still responding to January’s earthquake and the cholera outbreak earlier this month. So far, rubble-strewn Haiti has managed to escape hurricane season unscathed, while aid agencies have held their breath.
“We hoped we’d dodged a major bullet,” says Oxfam staffer Julie Schindall, currently in Port-au-Prince. But “everyone is very concerned. Everyone is preparing as best we can, but the bottom line is that in the humanitarian community, we’re about maxed out.”
Oxfam is currently running an earthquake response program helping 450,000 people in Port-au-Prince, and a cholera response program helping 100,000 people to the north in Artibonite. This is where the agency’s resources are centred. But Tomas is forecast to hit neither of these areas – instead, it’s meant to make landfall in the south. And while the government, the UN and aid agencies have been preparing for months for a hurricane, the cholera response has seriously depleted stockpiles of emergency supplies such as tarps, clean water, food and medicine.
We must ask ourselves why we have so many simultaneous emergencies in Haiti. The country will always be vulnerable to severe weather due to its geographic location. However, these events don’t need to have the same devastating impact on Haitians that they do now, if the government were able to keep its people safe. Even in normal times Haitians are terribly vulnerable because there’s a tremendous lack of access to basic services such as water and healthcare, a lack of jobs, and lack of education. This country is mired in poverty, and because of this hundreds and sometimes thousands of Haitians die needlessly every year.