Hurricane Sandy had its start in the Caribbean, where it unleashed a head-on hit on Jamaica and Cuban, and then drenched Haiti in more than 20 inches of rain, devastating the south of the country.
Haitian authorities are only now beginning to sort out the damage from the storm, that took more than 50 lives and displaced more than 18,000 families. Food crops have been especially hard hit.
Officials say more than 70 percent of crops – including bananas, plantains and maize – may have been washed away by the rains and wind.
Cate Oswald, director of programs in Haiti for Partners in Health offers details from Port-au-Prince.
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Lisa Mullins: Haiti itself is still reeling from its early encounter with Sandy. There was widespread flooding and destruction there and more than 50 people were killed. Cate Oswald directs programs in Haiti for Partners in Health. She’s now in Port-au-Prince.
Cate Oswald: Some of the images in the south of Haiti that I’m seeing are very reminiscent of what we’re seeing along the Northeast coast of the US in an area that is you know, if not one of the most developed areas in the world, on the east coast of the US. Even just the fact that the storm passed by Haiti and left four days worth of rain was enough to create serious crop loss and devastation for a number of families.
Mullins: In Haiti, you’re saying even though you just got kind of the sidelines of Sandy, it still cost a lot of devastation. What are the differences in the kind of challenges that are faced right now? What is going on there from what you’ve seen?
Oswald: What we’re seeing is communities that are now cutoff in many ways because bridges have been washed out or roads, roads that were you know just footpaths and such have been completely washed out through landslides and such. When you’re dealing with a rural population where the majority of the economy is focused on agriculture, the devastation around housing loss is not nearly as important as the impacts on the food supply for the country. And so a lot of our concerns are, of course, how can we get the tens of thousands of families that have been displaced by the high flood waters or destruction from their houses from the flood waters to safety and in a more long term shelter, but also how can we continue to ensure that the food supply as we go into the dry season here in Haiti is sufficient to prevent further health problems.
Mullins: What are you seeing as you travel around the country?
Oswald: As you can imagine, we have a number of communities where housing conditions were small, tin-roofed houses or banana thatched roofs, with some houses having cement floors and others just being dirt floors. And when you have flood waters coming in, thatched roofs or even tin roofs with rock and mud type structures, they’re easily destroyed by floodwaters. And so we have patients who their one-room house is no longer there, it’s completely gone. We have others whose fields, the banana plantations, the corn and sugar cane, and anything that they were growing completely destroyed by the rising floodwaters when the riverbanks overflowed. â€¨
Mullins: Cate, you have family friends in the area that was hit by Hurricane Sandy here in the United States, I wonder with all the work that you’ve done as the Partners in Health organization director of programs in Haiti, if you’re surprised that the same hurricane that struck the United States and earlier struck Haiti or at least the outskirts of it struck Haiti, has yielded some comparisons in these two very, very different parts of the world?
Oswald: Oh, yeah, I was shocked to be following over the last few days to see what you know, I always associate this level of devastation with you know, with us here in Haiti because it’s just been one, it seems like it’s been one disaster after the next these past six years that I’ve been here. And to have it hit close to home in such a destructive way made me just realize how in many ways we’re all connected, we’re all affected by nature and weather patterns, and that we have to work together to be able to solve these problems globally.
Mullins: Alright, Cate Oswald, the Partners in Health director of programs in Haiti, speaking to us from Port-au-Prince, thank you.
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