Geneva / Panama, 11 October 2016 – Haitian Red Cross teams are urgently expanding water, sanitation and hygiene assistance to tackle a worsening cholera outbreak and prevent other water-borne diseases in areas battered by Hurricane Matthew.

“If we are to stem the existing cholera outbreak, it is essential that people drink and wash with clean water, have access to sanitary toilet facilities and get immediate treatment if they get sick,” said Steve McAndrew, head of emergency operations in Haiti for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.  “Without adequate water, sanitation and hygiene, diseases like cholera spread quickly.”

The storm, which hit one week ago, flooded communities, damaged sanitation systems, overflowed latrines and contaminated water.

IFRC assessment teams in and around the devastated city of Jérémie found non-functioning water distribution and waste removal systems, hospitals and cholera treatment centres without clean water and drainage systems clogged by sewage and hurricane debris.  Specialists on the teams say many people who can’t afford to buy bottled water are drinking and washing with untreated water, which is fuelling the spread of cholera.

The Haitian Red Cross staff and volunteers are in storm-hit communities distributing critical relief items, including water purification tablets, chlorine solution and hygiene kits.

In the days and weeks ahead, Haiti Red Cross staff and volunteers will be scaling up health and hygiene promotion, supplying clean water to medical facilities and cholera treatment centres, ramping up water treatment, distribution and storage programmes that were in place prior to the storm and supporting local authorities in the removal of human and solid waste and stagnant water, breeding grounds for disease-carrying mosquitoes.

IFRC and partner societies have also deployed specialists in water treatment, sanitation, risk reduction and hygiene promotion, emergency medicine, shelter, livelihoods recovery, logistics and communications systems to support relief efforts on the ground.

Cholera is a highly infectious disease and spread through contaminated water. It causes severe diarrhoea, vomiting and dehydration and can kill within hours if untreated. In addition to cholera, impacts of the hurricane raise the risk of other water-borne and vector-borne diseases.