January 10, 2006

Response to Tropical Storm Stan

In October 2005, tens of thousands of people throughout Central America lost their homes, livelihoods, and access to clean water when Tropical Storm Stan struck the region. Laurent Dedieu, Logistics Supervisor at Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in the United States, oversaw MSF's emergency assistance program in Guatemala's Chiquimulilla region, Santa Rosa department. Before finishing the project in mid-February 2006, MSF had distributed non-food items (NFIs) to thousands of families, dug new water wells, cleaned preexisting wells, and built homes for families who had lost everything.

Very rapidly, it became clear that the tropical storm had caused more floods than landslides. Los Esclavos River, for example, overflowed and 47 houses were destroyed. We assessed different options to help families that had lost their homes and decided to provide assistance even though this was in no way a typical activity for MSF.
-Laurent Dedieu

 

What needs did MSF address for people in Chiquimulilla
following Tropical Storm Stan?

 

A big part of the intervention was the distribution of non-food items, like hygiene kits because we were concerned about possible increases in cases of water- and vector-borne diseases. Overall MSF provided 5,000 kits to nearly 25,000 people in one month. We used a list of affected persons provided by the Ministry of Health and local authorities, with more than 3,000 people coming from emergency shelters, or Albergue. Later we identified an additional 1,900 families who were 'excluded' or marginalized, like migrant workers. They were not on the list but clearly needed assistance.
 

Kit contents:
— bucket and lid
— tooth brushes
— tooth paste
— combs
— soap
— womens' sanitary pads
— hand jugs
— washing powder
— towels
— chlorine tablets
— mosquito nets

 

We also provided mosquito nets during two rounds of distribution. The first round took place on November 15, with 9,500 nets distributed. This represents an average of three nets per families. In early January 2006, we did a second round with 6,000 nets.

Fortunately there were no increases in water- and vector-borne diseases. MSF did set up an epidemiological surveillance system, though, based on a network of eight health centers in the Chiquimulilla region to monitor Hepatitis A, malaria, Dengue fever, and diarrhea. We did not see a significant increase that would have justified further medical intervention by MSF.

 

What other problems did people face after the tropical storm?

 

Shelter and access to water were high on the list. A systematic study of water sources was essential to our response. In the emergency phase, MSF set up water trucking operations focusing on ensuring access to drinkable water at the eight health posts and at four other points. MSF also distributed chlorine tablets and conducted health education programs to teach people basic hygiene practices that can reduce the risk of water-borne diseases. People reacted positively to this education program. Later, we cleaned 50 wells and dug 33 new ones so people had more access to water. Other NGOs and the Ministry of Health took charge of cleaning existing wells, and some communities unfortunately were left without access to clean water. MSF tried to target people who were falling through the cracks of the aid response system

Very rapidly, it became clear that the tropical storm had caused more floods than landslides in the Santa Rosa department. Los Esclavos River, for example, overflowed and 47 houses were destroyed. We assessed different options to help families that had lost their homes and decided to provide assistance to these families even though this was in no way a typical activity for an emergency medical aid organization like MSF. You have to respond to needs, though, and we provided construction material, mainly wood, and cooking sets. In the end, our teams built 47 homes for these families who really had lost everything.

 

MSF's Emergency Response to Tropical Storm Stan

 


The remains of a house destroyed by mudslides in Panabaj, Guatemala. Photo © Olga Ruiz /MSF

In Chiquimulila, Santa Rosa department, MSF provided emergency assistance to people from October 2005 — February 2006. MSF distributed non-food items (NFIs) like hygiene kits and mosquito nets to 5,000 families, dug 33 new water wells, cleaned nearly 50 preexisting wells, and built 47 houses for families who had lost everything.

In Solola, Santiago de Atitlan municipality, MSF provided emergency assistance from October — December 2005, mainly focusing on water and sanitation projects. Three water tanks were installed and provided 6,000 people living in shelters with nearly 74,000 liters of water per day in the first weeks — generally, people require 15-20 liters of water each day. In November, these tanks provided 34,000 liters per day for the more than 1,400 people who remained. MSF also supported the Health Centre in epidemiological surveillance and control in the weeks immediately after the tropical storm. MSF also provided psychological support.

From mid-October to mid-December 2005, MSF provided assistance to 13,500 people in Coatepeque and until the end of January 2006 to 4,800 people in Ocós. This included ensuring delivery of antiretroviral (ARV) treatment to people living with HIV/AIDS, medical care for the displaced, conducting epidemiological surveillance, cleaning wells, and providing clean water.