Hurricane-ravaged Haiti is struggling to cope with a rise in cholera cases with officials warning that contaminated water and a lack of hygiene are posing a risk to thousands of people in the impoverished country.
While the capital and biggest city, Port-au-Prince, was largely spared, the south suffered devastation. Aerial footage from the hardest-hit towns showed a ruined landscape of metal shanties with roofs blown away and downed trees everywhere. Brown mud from overflowing rivers covered the ground.
Government officials said on Saturday that at least 13 people had died of cholera in the country’s southwest, as severely damaged water supplies and sanitation systems increase the risk of the disease spreading.
The Haitian health ministry’s cholera programme said at least 62 people were sick from cholera, a water-borne disease, with outbreaks reported in several towns both inland and across the southern coast.
‘People have started dying’
“People have started dying,” Eli Pierre Celestin, a health ministry official told Reuters news agency. “There are nurses but no doctors.”
Al Jazeera’s Teresa Bo, reporting from Jeremie, a town of 30,000 people, which was left inaccessible until Friday, said many in the Carribean nation were fearing a surge in cholera cases.
“One of the biggest fears here is the threat of cholera,” she said, citing an epidemic introduced by UN peacekeepers following Haiti’s 2010 devastating earthquake.
Since its apperance in 2010, the disease has infected hundreds of thousands of people and killed more than 9,000.
Children are increasingly vulnerable to cholera, which causes severe dehydration and can be fatal in a matter of hours if left untreated.
The UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund said in a statement on Friday that “in 2016 almost 27,000 cholera cases have been reported in Haiti, and over 240 people have died”.
“Hurricane Matthew is feared to significantly worsen the situation and increase the risk of a larger outbreak,” it added.
‘Dying of hunger’
As aid began trickling into Jeremie, locals told Al Jazeera that the international response was not fast enough, and that people could soon start dying of hunger.
“We thought the world would be here sooner because right now the people are in dire need,” Donny St Germain, a pastor at El Shaddai Ministries International, told Al Jazeera.
“The government is not giving us anything. The international community continue to do inspections while people are dying of hunger – and so right now, we need supplies.”
Up to 80 percent of crops have been lost in some areas, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
CARE France, a humanitarian group, said that around one million people were in need of urgent assistance, and that many had “nothing left except the clothes on their back”.
France announced earlier this week that it was deploying 60 troops with 32 tonnes of humanitarian supplies and water purification equipment.