In pictures: Haiti's cholera outbreak

By Alessandro Rampietti

An old Haitian proverb says that "a leaky house can fool the sun but it can't fool the rain". And once again the poor state of Haiti's sanitation and infrastructure system is showing all its cracks.

Ten months after the earthquake that devastated what was already the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, Haiti is confronting a new challenge - a cholera epidemic.

The disease broke out in the centre of the country in the mostly rural department of the Artibonite River valley in mid-October and initially seemed to have been contained to central and northern areas. But after causing hundreds of deaths and thousands of hospitalisations there, cholera found its way to the capital, Port-au-Prince, where over a million people are living in the 1,300 IDP camps set up for those who lost their homes in the January 12 earthquake.

Authorities fear that the living conditions in the camps will facilitate the spread of cholera. Clear water is lacking, sanitation is almost absent and children play in dirty puddles.

For the majority of the residents, the daily struggle is about survival and finding enough food. That leaves no money for something like bleach and sometimes even soap.

It is the first outbreak of cholera in Haiti in almost 100 years. Nobody alive here has ever experienced it, so those affected tend to be dismissed or get to a hospital or clinic too late.

Although authorities discussed the risk of a cholera outbreak immediately after the earthquake struck not enough has been done to prepare the country for an epidemic.

With the number of cases rising constantly the conditions are worsening despite the efforts of the well-funded aid groups that manage most of the country's social services.

Medical clinics are full to overflowing. To try and limit the spread of the disease many clinics have set up tents to deal exclusively with people suffering from symptoms related to cholera.

In some clinics the number of people arriving is doubling every day. The situation is getting so overwhelming that patients will soon have to be treated in the streets, or even sent away. This while other cholera centres that were opened when the outbreak started are reportedly closed due to a lack of supplies.

Cholera is a dangerous disease but it can be cured as long as treatment reaches the patient on time. The United Nations has made a direct appeal to the international community for almost $164mn, in order to avoid being "overrun" by the epidemic.

They estimate that around 200,000 people will be treated for cholera-like symptoms over the next six months. The money is needed immediately for more medical staff and supplies.

But there is scepticism over whether the funds will reach the people in need – of the $9.9bn pledged to Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake, roughly 25 per cent has been delivered.