In Haiti Hurricane Matthew has left scenes in its wake that evoke painful memories of the 2010 earthquake. Thousands of people are without water, food and shelter. Switzerland immediately deployed experts to identify requirements and distribute essential supplies.
Hurricane Matthew in Haiti – Switzerland’s contribution
On Tuesday 4 October 2016, winds exceeding 250km/h battered south-west Haiti, causing major damage and claiming hundreds of lives. The consequent flooding and landslides caused by torrential rain have exacerbated the situation. Swiss Humanitarian Aid has decided to focus its relief efforts on two areas – drinking water supply and the building of emergency shelters – based on initial evaluations.
Operational base in Port-Salut
Several detachments of experts from the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit (SHA) have set off for Haiti since Friday 7 October after the reopening of Port-au-Prince airport. These specialists in emergency shelters, water and sanitation, logistics, security and telecommunications worked in shifts to deliver relief to those in need. The rapid response teams set up their operational base in Port-Salut, a town severely hit by the hurricane on the south-west coast of the country. Logistics experts were deployed in the neighbouring Dominican Republic to purchase essential emergency supplies for the devastated regions.
As Haiti is a priority country for the SDC in terms of development cooperation, the emergency operation was able to call upon a number of the cooperation office’s regular staff who are based there. Staff at the Swiss embassy in Haiti were also mobilised. The Swiss representation is coordinating the relief effort with the Haitian authorities.
Access to drinking water and emergency shelters
Experts from Swiss Humanitarian Aid have set the following two priorities: the distribution of drinking water – which also contributes to the fight against the spread of cholera – and the provision of shelters for the affected population.
In the first month, members of the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit installed a mobile water treatment unit in Port-Salut capable of supplying 1,600 people per day.
In Côteaux, Roche-à-Bateau and Port-Salut they installed drinking water tanks for 13,000 people. They used a water tanker to bring water to an additional 8,700 people.
Support is also being provided for the rehabilitation of four public water supply systems serving a total of 24,000 people.
To prevent the spread of cholera, Switzerland sent 40 devices for the production of chlorine (WATA systems) and distributed 290,000 water purification tablets for 55,000 people.
7,750 tarpaulins and almost 3,400 corrugated sheets have been provided, along with tools and fastening materials, enabling nearly 60,000 people to protect themselves from the rain.
200 corrugated sheets were provided to repair the roof of a school, benefiting three classes.
In seven localities, residents are asked to help clear access roads and bring in aid in exchange for a small cash income. Using a similar system of payment, local residents have been mobilised to rehabilitate the banks of a river which burst its banks.
Some thirty experts from the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit took part in the emergency operations during the two months following the hurricane. The SDC allocated CHF 3.3 million in emergency aid. This amount includes contributions to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the World Food Programme (WFP). The latter received CHF 1.2 million for its food aid operations in hard-to-reach areas. The WFP also received the support of a Swiss expert to implement a cash aid distribution programme.
Schools stand up to Hurricane Matthew
The SDC's disaster prevention activities in the wake of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti have had a direct impact during the current crisis: the schools built on the basis of the standard model developed by the SDC withstood the hurricane. They were also used as shelters for the population during and after the cyclone, which probably saved lives.
The SDC plans to continue its post-Matthew operation for about 3-4 months, merging its humanitarian aid with its development aid activities. Support is being provided to local organisations to ensure livelihoods for rural and farming communities who have lost everything. This includes distributing seeds and livestock. The SDC will also support the authorities in the basic rehabilitation of about ten schools which were partially destroyed by the hurricane. The Swiss embassy in Haiti and its integrated cooperation office are coordinating the implementation of this recovery phase.
Haiti is a priority country for Switzerland in terms of development cooperation. Involved in drinking water supply, food security and disaster prevention under normal circumstances, the SDC office in Port-au-Prince is supporting Swiss experts deployed in the wake of Hurricane Matthew.
Ambassador, what challenges are the Swiss experts deployed to Port-Salut facing?
First and foremost, access to the disaster-stricken areas has been made extremely difficult as the roads are almost impassable. Accommodation has then had to be found for the experts because so many houses have been destroyed. The embassy has used its network to appeal to the Swiss in the region who have hosted several team members. Security is not currently an issue in Port-Salut but the situation could become precarious if emergency aid is not provided quickly enough in the worst-hit areas.
What role are the Swiss embassy in Haiti and the cooperation office affiliated to it playing in the current crisis?
The embassy possesses extensive knowledge of the Haitian context, a wide network of contacts and valuable logistical capabilities in the current emergency situation in terms of vehicles, drivers and other equipment made available. In addition to its technical expertise in several key sectors (humanitarian aid, reconstruction, access to water and food security), the SDC office has established relationships with the local authorities of several disaster areas through the programmes it is implementing. This is proving extremely beneficial. Switzerland also chairs a dialogue forum for development partners in Haiti. We have just called an extraordinary meeting to identify the existing projects in the areas affected and those which could contribute to the country’s reconstruction and recovery. The idea is to put forward specific action plans to the Haitian government.
Have you noticed a difference in the response of the Haitian authorities to the disaster compared with the disorganisation witnessed in 2010 following the last earthquake?
The nature of the two disasters is very different. In 2010, the earthquake flattened the capital Port-au-Prince. Various national institutions were wiped out, making operational management very difficult for the authorities. Today, in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, the authorities are properly in place and intend to assume their responsibilities.
Why did Hurricane Matthew claim fewer victims and cause less physical damage in Cuba than in Haiti?
Firstly, I must stress that the Haitian civil protection authorities have done an incredible job with evacuation. The death toll would otherwise have been much higher. The strength of the hurricane in Haiti was unprecedented with winds reaching 250 km/h. The extreme poverty of the population and fragility of the country’s institutions also explain the number of dead and level of destruction. Most families cannot afford homes made of cement, and there are few safe places where people can take refuge in the event of tropical storms or hurricanes. The inadequate network of high-quality roads prevents people outside of urban areas from being reached. By contrast, Cuba has had an exemplary natural disaster prevention and management system in place for a number of years. It would clearly be advantageous to replicate this good practice in other countries in the region.