1 Million in Haiti Urgently Need Humanitarian Assistance After Hurricane’s “Apocalyptic Destruction”
In Haiti, the death toll from Hurricane Matthew has topped 1,000. Haitian interim President Jocelerme Privert is warning the country faces a possible famine from what he described as the “apocalyptic destruction” of Hurricane Matthew. The country is also battling a growing cholera outbreak. The storm hit a week ago, but many areas have still received no aid. Food and medicine have run out. Authorities are now digging mass graves for those killed by the Category 4 storm. United Nations officials say nearly 1 million people are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, with up to 80 percent of Haiti’s food crops destroyed in some areas. Aid agencies estimate at least 60,000 people are staying in temporary shelters. We speak to Ninaj Raoul, executive director of Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees and a board member of IFCO/Pastors for Peace.
AMY GOODMAN: In Haiti, the death toll from Hurricane Matthew has topped 1,000. Haiti’s interim president, Jocelerme Privert, is warning the country faces a possible famine from what he described as the “apocalyptic destruction” of Hurricane Matthew. Haiti is also battling a growing cholera outbreak. The storm hit a week ago, but many areas have still received no aid. Food and medicine have run out. Authorities are now digging mass graves for those killed by the Category 4 storm.
United Nations officials say nearly 1 million people are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, with up to 80 percent of Haiti’s food crops destroyed in some areas. Aid agencies estimate at least 60,000 people are staying in temporary shelters. One unidentified person told reporters the hurricane took everything including her home.
HAITIAN WOMAN: [translated] I don’t have a home. All my things went with the water. I’m going to give birth this month. I have nothing. I have been here in the shelter since Monday.
AMY GOODMAN: On Monday, the U.N. made an appeal for emergency life-saving funds to provide critical food, water and shelter to the hundreds of thousands of people suffering in southwestern Haiti. This is Rudolph Müller of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs speaking at a news conference.
RUDOLPH MÜLLER: The government of Haiti and the humanitarian countries team flash appeal seeks to provide life-saving assistance and protection to 750,000 people out of 1.4 million people in need over the next three months. To do so, we urgently need to mobilize $119 million U.S.
AMY GOODMAN: The United Nations says Hurricane Matthew has triggered the largest humanitarian crisis in Haiti since the 2010 earthquake that killed as many as 300,000 people. Survivors reported drinking well water contaminated by dead livestock. At least 13 people have died of cholera, after floodwaters mixed with sewage. On Sunday, Haiti’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Pierre André Dunbar, told reporters Haiti may also face famine.
PIERRE ANDRÉ DUNBAR: [translated] This is not a population which is now on its knees, but on the ground in front of the atrocity of Hurricane Matthew. The city of Jérémie, which is an important one, this city has been systematically devastated, and 80 percent of the houses were destroyed, without mentioning houses which were damaged or severely damaged. Crops were also destroyed, which means the country will face a severe famine as the southwestern peninsula is considered as the breadbasket of Haiti. So the needs are urgent.
AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, Sunday’s planned presidential election in Haiti was postponed indefinitely in the wake of Hurricane Matthew.
For more, we’re joined now by Ninaj Raoul, executive director of Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees, also a board member of IFCO/Pastors for Peace.
Ninaj, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you talk about the severity of what happened, the thousand people lost?
NINAJ RAOUL: Yeah. First of all, the area of Haiti that was hardest hit is the southwest and some parts of the northwest. And the fact that the bridge was destroyed, a bridge that’s in Petit-Goâve, it cuts off access to the south, southern part of Haiti, that southern peninsula, which was hardest hit. And this part of Haiti is mostly farmers that live off of their crop and working with livestock animals. And most people lost a good amount of the crop and the livestock. So, this is all they had. This is all they had. And they are in very remote areas. You know, there are some areas where people were not even aware that the hurricane was coming, because they don’t have access to radio.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking about a thousand people dead, possibly much more.
NINAJ RAOUL: Yeah, it’s hard to know how many people are dead, because people weren’t even able to access to even look for people. So these are just really rough estimates. And as we see, the toll keeps going higher and higher rapidly.
AMY GOODMAN: Your husband is from that area and has just headed there this morning?
NINAJ RAOUL: He just left for Haiti this morning. He’s on his way there down now. And he’s from a town called Baconnois, which is in the Nippes—Nippes—area of Haiti. That’s the top part of the southwestern peninsula. And, you know, folks that are in a town called [inaudible], that were visited directly after from folks that we know, you know, didn’t—were not even aware that the hurricane was coming. So, they weren’t even prepared to do anything about it, to defend themselves.
AMY GOODMAN: So you have the people who have died. You’ve had the water supply, the crops that are destroyed. What about the water, and then the possibility that the water is contaminated, and a cholera outbreak?
NINAJ RAOUL: Well, first, some of these are coastal villages, so the sea—the saltwater spills over and contaminates the soil, which makes it hard to farm again. And then you have overflowing latrines that are going to further contaminate the waters that go into drinking water and just regular water that everyone uses every day. So, we already had a problem with cholera. And whenever we have these floods caused from disaster, it exasperates the problem, and more people—we’re starting to see deaths from cholera already, even in the early days following the earthquake—the hurricane.
AMY GOODMAN: Hurricane Matthew hit the coastal town of Les Cayes especially hard. Conditions at a local hospital remained bleak after flooding and power outages made treating patients nearly impossible. This is one of the patients at Les Cayes Hospital.
PATIENT: [translated] I have been waiting here for 12 days. I was ready for an x-ray that they were supposed to do on Tuesday, but then the hurricane came.
AMY GOODMAN: Subsistence fishermen are reportedly among the most vulnerable in Haiti after Hurricane Matthew tore through Haiti, destroying boats and equipment used for daily catches. This is fisherman Jethro Laurent.
JETHRO LAURENT: [translated] Look at the misery of one country, our country and the trees that were destroyed. Nothing remains. Our materials were lost in the sea. Others are under the ground. What are we going to do?
AMY GOODMAN: So, you spoke about cholera. Talk about the history of cholera in Haiti.
NINAJ RAOUL: Well, cholera—there has been a history of cholera in Haiti over the years. But in recent years, the epidemic was caused from the U.N. troops that had spilled some sewage, some latrines, into the rivers. And—
AMY GOODMAN: And explain this. This is after the earthquake of 2010.
NINAJ RAOUL: This is after the earthquake, when you had all these peacekeepers, peacemakers. The U.N.—
AMY GOODMAN: These were Nepali peacekeepers who had come in—
NINAJ RAOUL: Exactly.
AMY GOODMAN: —for the U.N..
NINAJ RAOUL: Right. So, just from carelessness and neglect, some of their latrines had leaked into the rivers, and that’s where this latest cholera epidemic started. It’s close to 10,000 have died as a result. And every time there is a disaster, which Haiti has many, then the situation gets worse, and the cholera outbreaks begin again. And we’ve seen that in the past week already.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, how do you prevent this outbreak once again?
NINAJ RAOUL: It’s hard to say, Amy, because there have been massive vaccination programs coming in, but it’s been proven that these vaccination programs—sometimes it’s business-related, and the strain that they’re treating is not the same strain that exists in Haiti. I know that the Cuban doctors that are—the Cuban brigade that are there in Haiti have been—have been excellent and preventing a lot of death and recovering folks faster.
AMY GOODMAN: You know, I remember going down to Haiti after the earthquake, and in the hospitals where the Cuban doctors were, this is where the care was best. People were afraid to tell Americans that it was Cuban doctors that were there, fearful that U.S. aid wouldn’t then come in.
NINAJ RAOUL: Right. But now, right away, after this latest disaster, Cuba sent 800 doctors right away. And you’ve seen that changing a bit, especially in Africa with the Ebola outbreak, because the Cuban doctors took the forefront of everything, and people were—had to admit that they were there.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, what about refugees and deportations? Explain the latest situation with Haitian refugees in this country being deported back to Haiti. Wasn’t it just recently announced last month that—the Department of Homeland Security announcing it would fully resume deportation of undocumented Haitian immigrants?
NINAJ RAOUL: Right. That was September 22nd that they announced that any—the new policy for Haitian refugees. Any Haitians that reach the borders of the U.S. without permission to enter will be automatically detained until they are deported. Now, this was in reaction to a surge of refugees that have been coming up—Haitian refugees coming from Brazil. These are Haitians that moved to Brazil, that were welcomed there after the earthquake because they need the labor force when they were preparing for the World Cup and later the Olympics. Now that Brazil has—is experiencing this economic crisis, the Haitians are being pushed out, and they’re heading north to try to come to the U.S. borders.
They’ve been entering on—through Mexico. They cross like 10 countries to get there. A big part of it is by foot. Many people die on the way. And then they’ve been mostly entering through the Tijuana-San Diego border. We’ve been receiving refugees coming up to New York from this group since late May. There are about 4,000 to 5,000 refugees that came in at that border. Now, because of so many folks coming in—there are more on the way, there’s at least 1,500 waiting outside of the border of San Diego—then the Obama administration announced that they are going to stop taking them in, and detaining them and deporting them.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask about aid going to Haiti. The Red Cross notorious there, a lot of criticism, suggestions that it, quote, “lost” half a billion dollars there. ProPublica in 2015 wrote, “How the Red Cross Raised Half a Billion Dollars for Haiti and Built Six Homes: Even as the group has publicly celebrated its work, inside accounts detail a string of failures.” The New York Times: “The report is here. The details are ugly. It says the Red Cross claims it gave homes to over 130,000 Haitians, but it actually built only six.”
NINAJ RAOUL: Well, this is not the first time that we’ve seen the Red Cross do this. They do this all over. They raise money on disasters and don’t use most of it for the disasters. This is probably the most—the worst situation, because they made so much money from the Haiti earthquake in 2010. And again, we see they were the first ones collecting money, and they’re all over. The mass media is recommending people to give to the Red Cross for aid in Haiti right now. So, it’s sickening that they get away with doing this. They’re basically getting away with murder, because they’re making money on the backs of these disaster victims.
AMY GOODMAN: So how can you assure that money actually gets to Haitians?
NINAJ RAOUL: I think that it’s important to support Haitians that are helping Haitians, especially on the ground in Haiti. There are many, many. We’ve always—I know the Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees, we’ve been—we’ve been going down for disasters since 2004, and the first thing we do is identify people in the affected areas and work directly with them. There are a lot of serious, great people that are on the ground in Haiti, that are very organized, especially in these remote villages where government does not reach. And they are—I work with refugees, and a lot of them are persecuted because of their organizing work that they do. And I hear the stories. As recent as last week, I had refugees that are applying for asylum, that have come in, and simply for trying to improve their area. So there are people. You know, we just ask that people work with Haitians that are supporting Haitians.
AMY GOODMAN: In the wake of the hurricane, has the Department of Homeland Security said they will stop deporting Haitian refugees?
NINAJ RAOUL: They haven’t, and that’s one of the things we’re asking for. First, I want to say that when the Department of Homeland Security, just before the hurricane, announced that they are going to be detaining and deporting, the reason they gave was that Haiti is in a better place than it was from the earthquake, that it’s starting to recover. Meanwhile, the State Department is warning Americans not to travel to Haiti because it’s dangerous. So that’s a direct contrast right there. So, no, they have not stopped the deportations. They’re detaining people. Haiti—prior to that, Haiti was only accepting 50 deportees—only had the capacity to accept 50 deportees per month. Meanwhile, 50 people per day are coming in just in the Tijuana-San Diego border. So, that means people are already being moved to other detentions throughout the country, and they’re just going to be sitting there waiting to be deported.