Hurricane Matthew is estimated to be the most powerful storm to hit the Caribbean region in the last decade. The hurricane has already uprooted hundreds of thousands of people in Cuba, Haiti, and Jamaica, according to the latest situation report from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The total population exposed to Matthew Cyclone is more than 10 million people—roughly equal to the total population of Haiti—and half of these people are vulnerable to the hurricane.
We at Knoema have a special ongoing relationship with the government and people of Haiti, so in today’s Viz of the Day, we are taking a closer look at the potential health and economic effects of Hurricane Matthew for Haiti.
Some of the most densely populated and poorest regions of Haiti, including the departments of Ouest, Nord, and Artibonite, were also among the most exposed to Hurricane Matthew. Preexisting conditions in these geographic areas could have critical implications on the near- and long-term health and recovery of the local populations, including:
Water-borne illnesses. Heavy rains that have caused landslides and flooding not only put lives into immediate jeopardy but elevate the risk of life-threatening water-borne diseases. This is especially critical in Haiti where cholera—the most rapidly fatal water-borne illness—is endemic. Since January 2016, more than 24,000 cases of cholera have been registered in Haiti, with the same departments that were most exposed to the hurricane suffering the highest cholera incidence rates.
Water and sanitation. About half of the rural population in Haiti relies on unimproved water sources, while as much as 80 percent of the population does not have access to improved sanitation. Together, these factors will only further hinder recovery for the people in these regions.
Estimating the financial consequences of the storm is more art that science at this time. In the case of the Haitian economy, which is among the 20 smallest in the world based on GDP per capita, two natural disasters in the region during the last decade provide some context for the level of potential economic costs:
The 2010 earthquake. In 2010, an earthquake in Haiti caused economic losses of $7.8 billion - a value that is almost equal to the GDP of Haiti. That same year, Haiti received $4 billion in aid disbursements from donors that helped support the country’s initial recovery. Even with that support, it took almost two years before the GDP of Haiti recovered to its pre-earthquake level after a 6 percent decrease in 2010 and the country still has not fully recovered. An estimated 55,000 people remain internally displaced and extensive infrastructure damage remains.
Hurricane Felix. Prior to Matthew, Hurricane Felix in 2008 was the most powerful hurricane to hit the region. Felix cost Nicaragua—with an economy 1.5 times larger than Haiti’s—$713 million in damages and losses and a 3 percent decrease in GDP.