Haiti Following Hurricane Matthew: A Rough Road Ahead

Tragically, Matthew was not only the strongest hurricane to make landfall in Haiti in over a decade, but the areas it hit were also among the poorest.

In early October 2016, the Southwest region of Haiti was devastated by Hurricane Matthew, a category four storm. Tragically, Matthew was not only the strongest hurricane to make landfall in Haiti in over a decade, but the areas it hit were also among the poorest. The government reported 546 deaths and 439 injuries as a consequence of the hurricane, and more than 2.1 million people were affected with 800,000 in need of urgent food assistance. Due to both insecurity and logistical challenges in the early days of the response, some of the most vulnerable populations were unable to receive any assistance at all.

While four months have passed since the hurricane hit, the situation today is not much different. While interventions in health and water and sanitation appear to have prevented a widespread cholera outbreak, today, more than half of those affected are still in need of emergency humanitarian assistance. The World Food Program’s recent assessment shows that more than 800,000 people are in dire need of immediate food assistance. In the Department of Grand’Anse, agriculture was completely wiped out and half of livestock perished in many areas. Insufficient support to quickly restore livelihoods in affected areas, including delivery of sufficient seeds to small-scale farmers who lost everything in the storm, means many will miss the winter planting season, leaving them reliant on aid for months to come.

Haiti’s broader vulnerability is widely documented. The poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, where most people live on just over $1 a day, Haiti is also known for its poor governance and political unrest. Access to adequate healthcare is limited at best. The country has been faced with recurrent droughts and alarming food insecurity. Deforestation has further increased the risk of mudslides and flooding. 

Likewise, shelter needs appear to be overwhelming in the aftermath of the hurricane. Not only were roofs that were blown away by the 180+ mile per hour winds, but in many of the hardest hit areas, entire concrete homes were reduced to rubble. The October flash funding appeal noted that 90 percent of homes in the worst impacted areas were destroyed. While aid agencies distributed tarps widely, more substantive, transitional shelter support remains absent.

Longstanding development challenges in Haiti remain as the response shifts into a recovery stage.

The initial emergency response to Hurricane Matthew understandably included such priorities as food aid and WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene). However, longstanding development challenges in Haiti remain as the response shifts into a recovery stage. As the emergency response moves into recovery, some NGO’s are now departing, and there are fewer actors on the ground in the hardest hit areas.

A team from Refugees International is currently in Haiti to look at not only the efficacy of the Hurricane Matthew response but also at whether measures and strategies are being implemented that take into account Haiti’s vulnerability to disasters and climate change in the longer term. Are relevant donors ensuring strong links between humanitarian and development plans and strategies? Are shelter-rebuilding efforts prioritizing sustainable and resilient housing? How are protection needs, which are often underfunded, being addressed? What contingency planning is taking place as the planting season arrives and in advance of the next hurricane season, which begins in June?

We are in the field to find out.