Above left: Concern Worldwide’s Country Director in Haiti Nellie Kingston. Right: The François family stands among the ruins of what used to be their home. They evacuated during the hurricane and shortly thereafter, their home collapsed. They lost all of their possessions.
Nellie Kingston from Clonakilty is Concern Worldwide’s Country Director in Haiti. As a member of Concern’s Surge team, Nellie is deployed to various Concern country programmes for varying time periods that can range from four weeks up to six months. She was just two weeks in Haiti – her second time working there since 2013 – when Hurricane Matthew struck. Nellie’s career with Concern has also taken her to countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ethiopia and war-torn South Sudan. Nellie gives us her account of the situation in Haiti.
Hurricane Matthew is still very present in Haiti where, on top of all the tragedy, we are urgently trying to prevent a major food crisis and the spread of cholera.
Exactly four weeks on from this brutal storm, in one of the world’s poorest countries, we at Concern Worldwide are working tirelessly to help as many as we can and to ensure nobody is left in need.
As I write, there are 3,432 suspected cases of the lethal and painful water-borne infection Cholera – a disease that took 10,000 lives after the 2010 earthquake here that killed 300,000 people.
Haiti was still rebuilding from that natural disaster when Hurricane Matthew’s 233kph winds hit the Caribbean nation, destroying roads, homes and churches and wiping away crops and entire livelihoods.
I was about two weeks in this role in Haiti, where Concern has been helping its poorest people since 1994, when the hurricane struck, so things have been extraordinarily busy here ever since and our response is ongoing.
My team here, who number about 110, responded immediately and I must pay huge homage to their incredible work, their selfless dedication, loyalty and commitment to helping those whose lives were turned upside down by this disaster.
Matthew’s death toll is continuing to rise to near 1,000 and a massive 141,493 people are displaced and living in 2014 temporary shelters.
Over 116,000 children are also out of school due to the destruction of 774 schools.
One of our major concerns is a worsening food crisis with 806,000 people currently in need of urgent food assistance – especially in areas like Grand Anse in the south west. Grande Anse is the bread basket to Haiti and the impact of Hurricane Matthew will be devastating to agriculture for years to come.
I have just returned from an area in Grand Anse called Anse d’Hainault with Concern’s logistics advisor, Graham Woodcock, who is from Glasnevin, Dublin, and other staff, to distribute hygiene kits and emergency shelter to 3000 people.
We have been working with and alongside other aid agencies too, and with the local and national authorities, as we try to prevent cholera spreading and ensure everyone has food and shelter.
Concern is also beginning a cash-for-work intervention to help repair roads that have been damaged by the hurricane, including a section of the road that links the two communal capitals, which has been completely destroyed. It is hoped that this intervention could be expanded to other areas given the extent of the damage to the already extremely poor road network. The cash-for-work approach ensures that vulnerable and marginalised people have money in their pockets to cover immediate needs including food.
Another area badly hit by Hurricane Matthew was the island of La Gonâve where we had to use small boats to get aid, including blankets and water cleaning aqua tablets, to its devastated coastal towns.
Food security conditions in La Gonâve were already poor from years of drought that had hit their peak in 2015, with harsh consequences for the agriculture and cattle.
During my work in other countries around the world, I have heard gunshots, seen mortars light up the sky, driven through armed checkpoints and experienced earthquakes, but I wouldn’t be here if I was afraid. I just hope that we are doing enough to help those who need it the most.
While I miss my husband Eric and two children Aisling and Conor, and have been in regular contact with them, I will be home with them and my family in Clonakilty for Christmas. Donations to the Concern Haiti appeal can be made online www.concern.net/donate/appeals/haiti-hurricane-appeal or by calling Concern directly on Freephone 1850 211 844.