cholera, and sanitation

November 14, 2010

As Haiti grapples with Cholera, and its effects, I can't help but envision one scene I saw in Haiti, over, and over, and over again. 

The heat was sweltering, and we took about 20 children from the orphanage I was working in to play in the water at Plage Presidan, a beach near Kaliko. On the way, we passed a river called R Du Culde, where I watched women washing clothes and bathing their children. I remember feeling a sharp sense of disbelief when I saw that others were relieving themselves upstream. 

I have a friend that always says, "A plus B does not equal C in Haiti." 

I learned that, as an awkward nineteen year old fumbling through culture, and the way it plays out in our interactions. 

Now, I'm learning it again. 

We're all learning it again, as we look into the cause behind Haiti's Cholera outbreak. 

Some are blaming it on the UN. Some are blaming the earthquake. Others are saying that it has nothing to do with it. Others still, are saying that the lack of medical care in rural areas is behind the spread. Poor planning could, of course, have been the cause. 

Some are saying it doesn't matter where it came from.

But I think it does. I think it matters because, in truth, everyone is saying the same thing a thousand different ways.

Cholera, in Haiti, is spreading because of a lack of sanitation.

Georgianne Nienabar, an investigative journalist and Haiti relief worker wrote, this weekend that, "Lack of sanitation and at least 1.3 million living under plastic sheeting and tarps in ill-named "tent" cities created an environment ripe for the outbreak of diarrheal disease. Cholera, which has not been known in Haiti for an entire generation, was unexpected, but had the government, NGO's and other "charitable" organizations properly positioned rehydration supplies throughout the country in anticipation of an outbreak of an inevitable lesser intestinal disease, part of this catastrophe could have been avoided and lives saved. Cholera is treatable with rehydration. Don't treat it, and you can die within 12 hours."

Clarens Renois, of AFP, reported that, "An estimated 1.3 million Haitians live in refugee camps, most in tent cities around the capital where water-borne cholera could spread easily in filthy conditions where scarce supplies are shared for cooking and washing."

The Washington Post reported that, "The massive earthquake in January devastated Haiti's infrastructure, making residents vulnerable to outbreaks of cholera and other waterborne diseases." 

I feel that, perhaps, Cholera was one out of innumerable evils that were bound to come about, due to Haiti's lack of sanitation. 

BBC's Sigrun Rottmann reported that,

"It is not clear if the cause of the outbreak will ever be identified, but health experts agree that for cholera to occur, bad sanitation and hygiene have to coincide with people carrying the Vibrio Cholerae bacterium.
Sanitary conditions were poor in many parts of Haiti even before the earthquake, and Dr Brigitte Vasset from the international humanitarian organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) in Paris is reluctant to link the outbreak directly with the quake."
John Sauer, a friend of mine from Washington DC wrote an excellent article on why US Philanthropists Should Care about Sanitation
Photo via Straits Times