New hope for Haiti

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

.Dur­ing a re­cent visit to the ru­ral com­mu­nity of Los Pal­mas, Haiti, I had the op­por­tu­nity to talk with fam­i­lies di­rectly af­fected by the cholera epi­demic that has been af­flict­ing the coun­try since the 2010 earthquake. One man ex­plained that not only had the dis­ease killed his sis­ter, but his mother-in-law had also per­ished as she un­der­took the hours-long walk to the near­est hos­pi­tal. He and his wife are now car­ing for five or­phaned nieces and neph­ews.

In Haiti to­day, sto­ries like this are not un­com­mon. In­deed, thou­sands of peo­ple across the coun­try have en­dured sim­i­lar tri­als and tragedies.

But there are also signs of hope. In­creased com­mu­nity en­gage­ment and changes in hy­giene prac­tices have freed the women, men, and chil­dren of Los Pal­mas and the neigh­bour­ing vil­lage of Ja­cob of cholera – a dra­matic re­ver­sal from the last few years – and re­duced their risk of con­tract­ing other wa­ter-borne dis­eases. One fam­ily I met, for ex­am­ple, proudly showed me a new wa­ter fil­ter.

This com­mu­nity-led ap­proach will be crit­i­cal to the suc­cess of the “to­tal san­i­ta­tion cam­paign,” which Haitian Prime Min­is­ter Lau­rent Lamothe and I launched in Los Pal­mas dur­ing my visit. By en­cour­ag­ing house­hold in­vest­ment in durable, hy­gienic la­trines, pro­vid­ing im­proved san­i­ta­tion prod­ucts and ser­vices at af­ford­able prices, and en­sur­ing that schools and health cen­tres have ad­e­quate wa­ter and san­i­ta­tion in­fra­struc­tures, the ini­tia­tive will im­prove health con­di­tions for 3 mln peo­ple in high- risk ar­eas over the next five years. Just be­fore leav­ing the vil­lage, we laid the sym­bolic first stone of a new se­cure wa­ter source.

The cam­paign is the lat­est step in a com­pre­hen­sive United Na­tions-sup­ported op­er­a­tion to elim­i­nate cholera from Haiti. The UN and the Haitian govern­ment re­cently cre­ated a high-level com­mit­tee tasked with im­ple­ment­ing a com­pre­hen­sive strat­egy that cov­ers all as­pects of cholera pre­ven­tion and re­sponse, in­clud­ing scaled-up as­sis­tance for fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties.

More­over, Haiti’s Min­istry of Health and the Pan-Amer­i­can Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion/World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion are begin­ning the sec­ond phase of a UN-fi­nanced vac­ci­na­tion ini­tia­tive that is tar­get­ing 600,000 peo­ple in ar­eas where cholera per­sists; 200,000 peo­ple are set to be vac­ci­nated in the next cou­ple of months, with another 300,000 to fol­low by the end of this year. Dur­ing the first phase last year, 100,000 peo­ple were vac­ci­nated.

These ef­forts have al­ready re­duced the toll of the epi­demic sig­nif­i­cantly. Dur­ing the first few months of this year, the num­ber of cholera cases and deaths de­clined by some 75% com­pared to the same pe­riod of 2013, reach­ing the low­est level since the out­break be­gan.

To be sure, Haiti still hosts the largest num­ber of sus­pected cholera cases in the Western hemi­sphere – un­ac­cept­able in a world of such vast knowl­edge and wealth. But the coun­try is on a tra­jec­tory to­ward suc­cess. Just as cholera has been elim­i­nated from other dif­fi­cult en­vi­ron­ments world­wide, it can be elim­i­nated from Haiti.

Haiti’s prospects are im­prov­ing in other ar­eas as well, ow­ing partly to the UN’s com­mit­ment to the coun­try. Since 2004, the UN’s Sta­bil­i­sa­tion Mis­sion in Haiti (MINUSTAH) has been work­ing to im­prove the se­cu­rity en­vi­ron­ment, sup­port the po­lit­i­cal process, strengthen govern­ment in­sti­tu­tions, and pro­tect hu­man rights. It also played a ma­jor role in sta­bil­is­ing and re­build­ing the coun­try af­ter the 2010 earthquake.

As a re­sult of MINUSTAH’s ef­forts – and those of other UN agen­cies – the se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion has im­proved con­sid­er­ably, un­der­pinned by a stronger ju­di­ciary and a more ef­fec­tive na­tional po­lice force. Mean­while, pri­mary-school en­roll­ments rates have soared, from 47% in 1993 to nearly 90% to­day.

Given en­dur­ing po­lit­i­cal and so­cial fragility, a weak econ­omy, and se­verely con­strained fi­nances, Haiti’s con­tin­ued progress re­mains far from cer­tain. In order to im­prove its chances of achiev­ing its devel­op­ment goals, Haiti must fol­low through on its plans to hold long-over­due leg­isla­tive and lo­cal elec­tions later this year, fol­lowed by a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion next year. Haitian lead­ers across the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum must rise above their dif­fer­ences to en­sure that the elec­toral process is con­ducted fairly, thereby ad­vanc­ing the rule of law, safe­guard­ing hu­man rights, and con­sol­i­dat­ing the coun­try’s demo­cratic foun­da­tions. The in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity’s con­tin­ued sup­port also will re­main es­sen­tial. Most ur­gent, Haiti needs help fund­ing its $2.2 bln ten-year Na­tional Cholera Elim­i­na­tion Plan.

So far, just 40% of the $448 mln that will be needed in the first two years for in­vest­ments in early warn­ing, rapid re­sponse, wa­ter, san­i­ta­tion, and vac­cines has been mo­bilised, and only 10% of the to­tal has been pledged.

The Haitian peo­ple pos­sess all of the com­pas­sion and de­ter­mi­na­tion needed to over­come the cholera epi­demic and achieve in­clu­sive eco­nomic devel­op­ment. But the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity – in par­tic­u­lar, in­ter­na­tional fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions work­ing in the re­gion – must step up and sup­port them.

I was pro­foundly moved by the hos­pi­tal­ity and com­pas­sion that I saw in Los Pal­mas. But I also un­der­stand that Haitians ex­pect their govern­ment and the UN to de­liver on the prom­ises made that day. If every­one does their part, we can give Haitians the health­ier, more pros­per­ous fu­ture that they de­serve.

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