Haiti: Cholera Update

Yesterday (11/09/10) The New York Times carried a detailed article on the cholera crisis that is plaguing Haiti, which seems to have been made worse by Hurricane Tomas which brushed the country last weekend causing twenty-one deaths, destroying more than a thousand homes and leaving more than 6,500 people homeless. The reporter found one man waiting at a rural clinic holding in his arms his three-year-old son who had unrelenting diarrhea and was on the verge of death. The death toll from the cholera outbreak has now passed 500 victims. People know the water in the Artibonite River north of Port-au-Prince is contaminated with cholera-causing bacteria but they have no choice other than to bath in it or drink from it because they have no money to buy bottled water. Some people put Clorox in the water before drinking it, even though the taste is terrible.

Later in the day, the news turned worse. Up to then the cholera had been confined to the Antibonite region which consists largely of rice paddies and small settlements. The great fear was that the cholera epidemic would spread south to Port-au-Prince and sweep through the tent cities where sanitation is already a huge problem. The cases of cholera that had been treated in Port-au-Prince where confined to people who were infected outside of the capital and later traveled there. But yesterday, a three-year-old boy living in a tent camp contracted the illness. He had never been to the cholera zone. The hurricane’s torrential rains must have spread the cholera to Port-au-Prince. If it is not quickly contained, it could be another dreadful disaster that will inflict even more misery on the poor.

During my eight-day-long trip to Haiti in October I once again stayed in the Girardo-ville slum, intentionally living with the poor, living without running water or electricity. I shared my humble abode with mice and rats that ate the candy I brought with me for the kids.

One day I hired a guy to take me around Port-au-Prince on his motorcycle. It was an exhilarating four hours. I welcomed the freedom to be out working and able to tell him to stop whenever I spotted something I wanted to photograph. I took many photographs while riding on the moving motorcycle. And we covered a great deal of territory, including an extensive drive around downtown. We went to the massive Chavez market and to the outskirts of Cité Soleil. On a number of occasions, I got off and walked and he followed me on the bike, making sure I was safe. On one occasion, he locked the bike and escorted me through a tent city. I was thrilled when he managed to get me passed security and inside the collapsed cathedral where I was able to take many dramatic photographs. Having been to virtually all the places he took me right after the earthquake or in March, I was able to see how many of the collapsed buildings had been cleared and the rubble removed. But many, many structures still must be cleared. The streets were jammed with traffic. Getting around is still a chore. The streets were lined with street vendors. The pollution is horrific, with countless old trucks pumping thick black exhaust into the air. There is life among the rubble, and I documented much of it. I will be going back to Haiti in December.

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