Caritas’s humanitarian experience had helped it recognise that crowded camps, with limited clean water and poor sanitation, were the perfect combination for another brewing disaster: a cholera outbreak.
Caritas had begun distributing soap and building stand pipes and latrines as soon as possible after the earthquake. “For some people, it is the first time they have proper access to water,” said Yves-Marie Almazor of Catholic Relief Services (CRS). But it wasn’t enough to stop the cholera time bomb going off in October; by the time it was brought under control, 100,000 Haitians had fallen ill and 2,300 had died.
Again, Caritas’s seasoned presence on the ground enabled it to act fast. In the first 48 hours of the outbreak, Caritas Haiti in Gonaïves gave out over 170,000 water purification tablets, hand disinfectants, rehydration salts and antibiotics.
In hard-hit Artibonite, CRS delivered hospital beds for patients who otherwise lay on the ground. Staff went tent by tent urging caution. Educational dramas were performed with cholera as the evil, slain by soap, clean water and disinfectant and a famous local graffiti artist spray-painted health messages.
While trying to save lives, Caritas Haiti and its partners worked in parallel towards a sustainable solution to the problem: the provision of clean water. “You can see people doing their washing in this river. But they drink it too, they have no other choice,” said Fr Jean-Baptiste Wilder, Director of Caritas Gonaïves. “We get people access to clean water by digging wells and purifying water. Staff in our network of rural clinics encourage people to drink this water and to take precautions. This is the long-term answer.”