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Young children are seen at an orphanage on January 18, 2010 following the earthquake that hit in Port au Prince on January 12, 2010. More than 105,000 food rations have been distributed to victims of Haiti's devastating earthquake since the emergency relief operation began last week, the UN's food relief agency said. (JULIEN TACK)
Young children are seen at an orphanage on January 18, 2010 following the earthquake that hit in Port au Prince on January 12, 2010. More than 105,000 food rations have been distributed to victims of Haiti's devastating earthquake since the emergency relief operation began last week, the UN's food relief agency said. (JULIEN TACK)

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The media seem to be using "Haiti" as shorthand for Port-au-Prince. To what extent was the rest of the country actually damaged? And how is the rest of the country functioning in the face of the devastation of the capital? ~ Saskatoon Bob

Answer: While most media outlets are based in Port-au-Prince and the damage has been devastating, other parts of Haiti have also been badly affected by the Jan. 12 earthquake. Roughly 90 per cent of Léogâne, the hardest hit area, has been destroyed, and 60 per cent of Jacmel - the family home of Governor-General Michaëlle Jean - has been flattened. Residents in Léogâne reported geysers shooting water and lava five metres into the air when the quake hit the seaside town.

Aid trickles in slowly. Many Canadian soldiers are setting up in Jacmel and nearby Léogâne, where Canada will focus its relief efforts.

Question: Will the number of dead bodies in Haiti lead to epidemics?

Answer: We asked The Globe's public health reporter, André Picard, to answer this question:

Dead, decomposing bodies smell terrible and they are unsightly and upsetting. However, the notion that corpses spread disease and cause epidemics after natural disasters like earthquakes is a myth - a persistent and harmful myth.

In the hours and days after disaster strikes, the focus should always be on the living.

Pathogens spread among and thrive in live people. The chaos and insalubrious conditions that exist in the wake of disasters is what fuels epidemics. Don't blame the dead.

The Red Cross, a humanitarian group with expertise in cadaver management, says it is essential to avoid hasty and uncoordinated disposal of bodies and that corpses should never be disposed of in mass graves.

Keeping cadavers - or, minimally, photographing them and taking DNA samples before burial - may seem unpalatable on the surface but it is essential for identification. Hasty disposal of bodies hampers rescue efforts and prolongs the pain of families of the "missing."

Even people handling bodies such as rescue workers and mortuary staff are at little risk of contracting illnesses. Pathogens rarely survive more than two days in a dead body and risks can be avoided with simple precautions like wearing gloves and hand washing. Masks are worn principally to lessen the smell, though the favoured technique among veteran aid workers is to block their nostrils with Vicks VapoRub.



HOW YOU CAN HELP

See our list of agencies offering aid to the region here:

Live chat from Haiti

An online discussion with Marilyn McHarg, general director of Médecins sans frontières (Doctors without Borders) in Canada and Audrée Montpetit of CARE Canada, who will participate from Haiti.

Ms. Montpetit is part of CARE Canada's emergency response team in Haiti. She lead the organization's work in Haiti in the wake of Hurricanes Ike and Hanna, which caused flooding and devastation in 2008. A graduate of the University of Sherbrooke and l'Ecole de Commerce Tours-Poitiers in France, Ms. Montpetit has been with CARE for four years.

Ms. McHarg is a McGill University nursing graduate and a Queen's University life sciences and psychology undergraduate, She was among the group of people who founded MSF Canada in 1989.

Editor's Note: globeandmail.com editors will read and allow or reject each question/comment. Comments/questions may be edited for length or clarity. We will not publish questions/comments that include personal attacks on participants in these discussions, that make false or unsubstantiated allegations, that purport to quote people or reports where the purported quote or fact cannot be easily verified, or questions/comments that include vulgar language or libellous statements. Preference will be given to readers who submit questions/comments using their full name and home town, rather than a pseudonym.



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