Aid agency says ‘still a mountain to climb’ in Haiti

Emergencies, Media Releases, News article written on the 12 Feb 2010

One month after a devastating earthquake struck Haiti, international aid agency Oxfam has warned a major effort is still needed to prevent public health from deteriorating. Time is pressing as there are only six weeks before the start of the raining season.

The agency said there have been enormous and successful efforts in getting clean water and food to people since the quake hit exactly a month ago. To date, Oxfam has provided assistance to about 100,000 people and continues to scale up operations, planning to reach at least 500,000 people by the end of July.

But the same progress must now be made in tackling poor sanitation. Oxfam said a surge in effort is needed from the international community, the UN and aid agencies in advance of the rainy season, due in April.

Oxfam Australia’s Emergency Manager, Richard Young said the fear now was that cases of diarrhoea and other water-borne diseases could spread given the combination of poor drainage, a limited number of latrines and crowded living conditions.

Oxfam has so far installed latrines at 11 key sites and many more are planned. Public health teams are also working with communities to reduce the risk of disease by rubbish-clearing and awareness-raising. But there is still a long way to go.

“Thanks to the generous public and political response the aid effort has rapidly expanded to meet people’s needs but there is still a mountain to climb.

“We now need a surge in effort to improve sanitation facilities for people in Haiti. Let us not kid ourselves that this is going to be easy, it requires a Herculean humanitarian effort from all quarters.

“Around 230,000 people lost their lives on January 12. It is our priority to make sure that we don’t let that number grow,” Mr Young said.

The huge logistical challenges facing the aid effort – communications, transport, loss of key staff, destroyed physical and political infrastructure – are slowly being overcome but bottlenecks still remain.

“More than 75 per cent of Haiti’s capital needs to be rebuilt. Reconstruction will take many years and needs the full support of the international community,” Mr Young said.

For more information please contact:

In Australia – Kate Thwaites +61 407 515 559,

In Haiti – Ian Bray on +44 (0)7721 461 339