The people of southern Haiti are traumatized and the landscape has suffered “complete devastation.” Hurricane Matthew survivors “have never seen anything like this,” Christopher Bessey, the country representative for Haiti for Catholic Relief Services, reports. The Category 4 hurricane was the fiercest storm to make landfall here in 52 years. “They’ve basically lost everything.”
Most of the houses are gone, and those that are not are seriously damaged. Schools the region’s children should now be attending have also been damaged or destroyed, as has other critical civil infrastructure.
For the region’s farmers, Hurricane Matthew has been a crop-killer; worse, Matthew arrived just as they were preparing for rainy season planting. But this year there will be no planting and no harvesting; Matthew has overrun their fields with mud and debris and taken the seed from their homes.
The Associated Press reports on one father of six who survived the storm with his family in Las Cayes examining the wreckage of fields he had cultivated for 25 years. His rice was swamped with river water; the family’s mango and breadfruit trees were split like matchsticks; his corn flattened or torn from the ground.
“It is going to take us a long, long time to get back on our feet,” the farmer told AP.
Mr. Bessey reports such scenes are common all over the two southern departments of Haiti that had been hardest hit by Matthew.
Crop loss in the south is virtually absolute and many crop trees—mango, cocoa and coconut—have been uprooted and thrown flat by the storm. “It’s as though someone went in and clear cut the entire area,” Mr. Bessey said.
“A tree crop like cocoa can take three years before it will start producing,” he added, one small indication of how long the restoration to normalcy in Haiti will take and how much patience it will require.
In the meantime, the Haitian government reports that 1.4 million people will need immediate humanitarian assistance—food, clean water, temporary shelters. Mr. Bessey said C.R.S. teams are moving those commodities into the affected areas. Emergency medical assistance is also urgently required. Reports of cholera are already coming in because water supplies have been swamped and contaminated.
In a situation report filed on Oct. 11 by the the Catholic Medical Mission Board, Brittany Jonap, a C.M.M.B. volunteer, reports receiving a request for 50,000 food kits for survivors in Jérémie. “I don’t know how we will do this,” she writes. “Right now that area isn’t even accessible by car. It will take a helicopter or boat. It took our entire staff a whole day to prepare 1/50th of that. Yet the need for food and clean water is urgent.”
The official death toll on Oct. 14 was 473, though local officials have reported figures suggesting it will eventually climb much higher, and the homes of more than 120,000 families were damaged or destroyed.
It will take months, if not years for recovery in the region, according to Mr. Bessey. “That’s assuming there is the right level of assistance.” He likens the completeness of the destructive force of the hurricane to the devastation of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. The effort to rebuild after Matthew will demand a similar humanitarian response, he says.
He is already worried that global media will move on to a new crisis, “if it hasn’t already,” before the resources necessary for such an effort can be mustered.
“We’ve gotten great support from the Catholic bishops of the United States,” he said. “They’re making sure that the call goes out through the diocese and parishes, and we do hope that the story isn’t forgotten now.”