Update on Progress and Challenges: 5 weeks post earthquake

Since I returned from Haiti a little more than a week ago, I have often been asked about whether there are any improvements on conditions in Haiti. As a result of the swift and large scale response of aid agencies from around the world, there are definitely improvements that are worth noting. More striking, however, are the continued challenges of supporting the Haitian population of over three million who were directly affected by the earthquake, as well as the rest of the country that has begun hosting the displaced folks who are streaming out of Port au Prince to the surrounding areas. Most of the following comes from the latest Situation Report of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

1) Good news: The World Food Program and partners have reached over 3.7 million people with food assistance. There are now 102 community centers for the outpatient care of the severely malnourished, and 18 such mobile units.

But remember: Malnutrition and food insecurity was a big problem before the earthquake. While this is a vast improvement over the early weeks, more work obviously needs to be done here to rein in hunger and malnutrition.

Malnutrition is a contributing factor to at least 60% of child deaths under the age of 5 in Haiti. This father at left is holding his 15 month old malnourished baby. The child was being treated at the malnutrition program at University Hospital.

2) Good news: 850,000 people are receiving 5 liters of water per day, which is 83% of the target population in need.

This water in Haiti- 5 liters per person- is used for drinking and cooking. But compare to-World standards: 50 liters of water per person per day is needed for sanitation, bathing, and cooking to sustain life. Americans use: 500 liters of water per person per day.

3) Not such good news: 75% of people who need latrines do not yet have access to any.

We know that lack of latrines compounds public health risk. Lack of sanitation is the world’s biggest cause of infection. Inadequate water and sanitation is associated with diarrheal illnesses, one of the leading causes of death for children in Haiti.

4) Good news: There is not yet any proven outbreak of epidemic in Haiti.

But- We recognize that there remains a large risk of diarrhea epidemic due to the overcrowding of displaced persons, poor sanitation and lack of latrines and waste disposal systems.

Diarrheal illnesses is a great threat to young children in Haiti. It is one of the leading causes of death in children under five years old.

5) Good news in child health: Unicef and partners have launched a massive vaccination campaign

* Includes measles, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis

* Children 0-7 years are targeted. Anyone can receive the vaccines, adults and children, if they show up

* Campaign started in tent camps and will spread out to Port au Prince’s surrounding communities

Yeah! This is great news because of the increased risk of disease in overcrowded camps with poor water and sanitation. We will stop on this positive note today.

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