Hurricane Matthew: Aid lessons from Haiti quake

As the scale of the devastation from Hurricane Matthew is becoming clear in Haiti, so is the need for emergency aid.

The poorest country in the Americas has taken a direct hit from the worst Caribbean storm in nine years. Whole villages and towns have been razed. Hundreds of people are dead.

The Red Cross says a million people have been affected in the south-west of the country. About 350,000 people are in need of immediate assistance, amid fears of cholera outbreaks.

Food is a leading concern as crops have been wrecked by the Matthew. Junior Jetro Cherubin, a farmer in the port city of Les Cayes, told AFP news agency: "I had maize and pepper fields, almost 100 mango trees and a farm where people could buy seedlings. I've lost everything."

Help is all the more urgent as the country's chronically ineffective state cannot cope. "Where is the Haitian government, where are they?" one resident in the devastated town of Cavaillon was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency.

"Water, food, clothing for people in dire need, we need all of that," another said.

So, once again, Haitians have to turn to foreigners. International aid groups are appealing for donations. Many foreign NGOs are on the ground, and are already mobilising to help victims in the south-west.

The previous massive aid effort, in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake that devastated the capital, Port-au-Prince, may provide useful lessons for the humanitarian effort being launched.

Hand up or handout?

John Mitchell, a leading analyst of humanitarian aid, says swift, concerted action is vital.

The "cluster system" set up by the UN to co-ordinate the aid after the earthquake - which killed more than 200,000 people - helped deliver water and shelter to survivors quickly. "Lives were saved," Mr Mitchell told the BBC.

But, he says, the response also provided warnings. Foreign NGOs were criticised for descending on Haiti with their own staff and their own agenda, ignoring the traditions and expertise of those they were supposed to help.

"The coping strategies of local people were overlooked. Opportunities to support local businesses were missed," says Mr Mitchell, who heads Alnap, an international network of humanitarian agencies.

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