The number of cholera cases in PIH-run treatment centers has increased at least threefold in the past two months as flashfloods — a side effect of the rainy season and deforestation — spread the disease among water sources. Patients seen at PIH cholera clinics jumped from 3,932 in April to 14,425 in June. People who have died from cholera in local hospitals have increased from 21 in April to 70 in June. Trends documented by PIH are believed to be mirrored nationwide.
“If we are to truly combat cholera, we need to implement long-term solutions, like water treatment systems and latrines,” says Cate Oswald, PIH’s Haiti-based program coordinator for community health. “We need more groups to help finance latrine construction as there are some communities where I have been that have had zero latrines — literally no latrines — for a population of a few hundred people.”
With little to no access to proper sanitation systems, many Haitians have been forced to urinate and defecate directly onto the ground — often in a field or yard — where waste seeps into the soil, contaminating local water sources. Cholera-polluted primary sources for drinking water such as ground and surface water continue the spread of the disease.
Settlement camps in Port-au-Prince and rural areas — where people are dependent on untreated water sources — are once again being ravaged by the disease.
Haiti’s rainy season is largely to blame for the dangerous uptick, further stressing and disrupting the country’s woefully inadequate water and sewage systems.
“We can find quick fixes, things like Aquatabs and clorox, and cholera treatment supplies like oral rehydration, ringer's lactate (intravenous rehydration solution) — but we need latrines,” adds Oswald. “International funders and organizations are not investing in the government's plan for constructing 500,000 latrines in remote rural areas or in helping to develop water treatment facilities.”
More than 370,000 Haitians have been infected with cholera since the initial outbreak in October 2010. Before that time cholera hadn't been seen in Haiti since the 1960s, though poor sanitary conditions in the lower Artibonite placed the region at high-risk for decades. Following the January 2010 earthquake, conditions deteriorated even further, leading to the current endemic situation. PIH has been lobbying for the improvement Haiti’s water security for several years.
In 2008, PIH, NYU's Law School's Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, and the Robert Kennedy Center for Human Rights released a report of the denial of water security as a basic right in Haiti.
Secure and free access to clean water is a basic human right that should be delivered through the public sector. The international community’s failure to assist the government of Haiti in developing a safe water supply violates this basic right.