As of Wednesday, cholera had claimed at least 583 lives and sickened more than 9,000, according to the Health Ministry. Frantic aid workers are fighting to keep the outbreak from spreading into congested earthquake survivor camps in Port-au-Prince.
This is misery piled upon misery, part of the burden of history in a country where natural disasters are practically a chronic affliction. But this time around Haiti's problems have been compounded by the inexcusably slow pace of recovery and reconstruction.
Ten months after the earthquake, more than one million people still live under plastic sheeting, vulnerable to rainstorms and other menaces. Security in these camps is woefully lacking.
Much of the devastation, meanwhile, has not been cleaned up. Mountains of rubble are evident wherever the earthquake hit. So far, only 5 percent has been removed, far short of the amount that could reasonably have been expected. Bureaucratic delays in disbursing available funds are a major reason for the lack of progress.
These are basic relief tasks that have been left undone. Tireless work by an army of relief workers has stabilized the situation, but the cholera epidemic threatens to undo their efforts.
The reasons for the shaky start are not hard to fathom -- the scale of the devastation, widespread poverty, an ineffective government that suffered a crippling blow when the earthquake destroyed virtually all of the federal buildings and killed thousands of public employees.
But that was, we repeat, 10 months ago. Humanitarian emergencies are never easy to cope with, particularly an off-the-charts disaster like the one that rocked Haiti. Yet despite an encouraging international response at the outset and promises of coordination and cooperation at all levels, the effort has bogged down.
You already know all of that. The editorial then repeats something that has been frustrating me since the first news of cholera was reported and which is the reason we now need to take action:
President Obama can send a signal by calling for lawmakers to move quickly to allow disbursement of $1.15 billion in reconstruction money for Haiti. The president signed a bill approving the money last July, but the funds remain stuck on Capitol Hill while lawmakers quibble over the details of a spending plan.
It's simple what to do. Email or call your Senators and Congresspersons. Email or call the White House. Ask them, please, to make sure that these funds get released. Now.
Here's my email, that I sent to Senators Schumer and Gillibrand:
I am deeply concerned that the cholera epidemic in Haiti endangers the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and that US aid to the country is bogged down and has not been received. The Congress appropriated more than $1 billion for aid to Haiti after the earthquake earlier this year. Today's Miami Herald Editorial notes, "President Obama can send a signal by calling for lawmakers to move quickly to allow disbursement of $1.15 billion in reconstruction money for Haiti. The president signed a bill approving the money last July, but the funds remain stuck on Capitol Hill while lawmakers quibble over the details of a spending plan." I am writing because I want you to do whatever is in your power to get this aid delivered to Haiti. This aid is already long overdue. And receipt of this aid in Haiti is urgently needed to save lives.
You can use this, or you can write your own. I'm sure you understand the idea.
Please pitch in. I don't want to sit here and watch this cholera epidemic unfold without making a major effort to stop it. A first step in that direction, I think, is the delivery of this aid to Haiti.
cross posted from The Dream Antilles