Hurricane Matthew Relief Initiative

Project Overview

Ladies and Gentleman, today we are finally getting accurate reports on the true impact of Hurricane Matthew in Haiti. The southern coastal region is absolutely devastated. The main issue right now is access. It's all virtually impassable by land so cities there (such as Jeremie, Port Salut, etc) are almost completely isolated. That said, with the MINUSTAH (UN Haiti Mission) force already on the ground conducting relief and the helicopters that SOUTHCOM has pushed forward, the distribution of supplies to those areas will dramatically improve.

With very few structures left and more importantly entire food and water supplies compromised, the situation is as real as it gets. The survivors are completely at the mercy of air or sea relief operations as of now.

Much like with most of the other disasters we’ve responded to the needs in this first phase of relief are the same - water, food, shelter. This along with debris removal and obviously the rebuilding of structures in the long term.

It feels almost redundant and uninspiring to be writing again, about another disaster we’re responding to… But then I remember, this organization was born from a disaster – when we were caught directly in the middle of the 2009 earthquake in Padang, Sumatra. So, being that it is literally in our DNA, we feel a genuine responsibility to respond – every time. But it also goes beyond a feeling of responsibility… it is now the feeling of experience that really drives these decisions, and with that, the understanding that we can undoubtedly make a difference.

This experience I speak of... Well, Hurricane Matthew is the 16th disaster since we started W4W in 2009 and the 15th since the devastating quake that leveled Haiti in 2010. We’ve grown immensely over the last 7 years, taking note from each disaster experience and refining our program thereafter.

At this point we have a very tactical and strategic approach to implement our clean water program in almost any environment or condition, with a fully sustainable outcome. In addition, Haiti itself is the place that Waves For Water truly developed, and where we have done our largest scale of work. Which makes us incredibly well equipped (with very solid local teams and resources) to respond.

For this specific initiative we will be focused on mitigating the immediate suffering of the victims in the hardest hit areas, by providing access to the most essentially needed item to survive – clean water. Secondarily, but not any less important, will be our attention towards stopping a potentially devastating Cholera outbreak, in the weeks to come. We have worked on the front lines of the Cholera epidemic in Haiti for years and this type of disaster is exactly what can spark it up again.

In addition, because we already have such a great local team and network there we are also leveraging some of our US based partners and relationships to coordinate other urgently needed supplies and services (food, medical, etc) –making this a multi-layered relief program with an expanded mission set, beyond our primary focus of clean water.

Our initial approach is to personally strike areas of need, from intel that comes directly through our existing local networks. We will also be activating other groups and organizations with water filters systems and other essential supplies for them to implement throughout their various programs.

This two pronged approach is what we did after the earthquake in Nepal and Typhoon Haiyan, in the Philippines. It helps to broaden our scope of work and simply, cover more ground. We can only do so much as one team, so if we can empower other trusted groups with the right knowledge and tools, we then have a small army covering many corners of the country at the same time.

  • For example, The Rotary Club is another group that are working there already and will serve as an implementing partner for this initiative… they have extensive networks and a trusted track record with relief in Haiti.

In terms of timeline – our local teams have been gathering intel and assessing the damage over the past couple days and I will be arriving there on Saturday with our international team. From there our strike plan will be carried out over the course of the coming weeks.

Lastly, two US based groups have generously stepped up to support the activation of this initiative, which frankly, is the only way it happens. So on behalf of the entire W4W team, I’d like to give a special shout out to the fine folks over at, dos Gardenias (CA based swimwear brand), and The Waterbearers (clean water based social activism campaign)!

Thank you and stay tuned for more updates from the field…


Click here for our support document on how you can help.

Nov 29 - 2016Field Update 2

Filmmaker and Waves For Water team member Taylor Aikins reflects on his time in Haiti following Hurricane Matthew

My first day in Haiti began with an early morning ride on the back of a rickety Chinese-made scooter. We weaved through dusty streets and markets as we left town, fording three rivers whose bridges had been washed away during the hurricane, until finally winding our way along sketchy mountain roads above to an area called Trouin. I was joined by three young men from the youth wing of the local Rotary Club. Our purpose was to assess the area’s water stability and cholera exposure. We left the bikes along the road after meeting the towns water technician, employed by state water company DINEPA, which holds a rough monopoly on the country’s water sources and upgraded access points. He brought us up a small trail following a gauge pipe as it creeped its way up through dense foliage to a reservoir set on a small clearing. Despite the chlorination system that had been set up by a Japanese NGO at the reservoir, the water coming down to the village’s seven kiosks was not safe to drink. In a story common to many of the places we operate, the pipes, faucets and taps used were now contaminated to the point where the chlorination was ineffective. Residents had access to the kiosks for two hours in the morning to fill up enough buckets to bring home and last them until the next day. Those that could afford it bought liquid chlorine or tabs to purify the water they would drink.

We hiked down and continued to the end of road and the last of the water kiosks, to meet with a group of officials from a different region. They told us of a small village a half hour hike up the mountain called Petit Paradis, where residents had no water source and had to come down each day to gather water. We set out on the tiny trail, climbing up loose rock and mud, ascending a few hundred meters over roughly 2km. It was enough with my small pack and camera, I kept imagining how difficult this would be carrying 50 lbs. of water every day.

The dense heat dissipated as we gained altitude, and the temperature became manageable for me at last. The dark red earth of the upper plateau was a stark contrast to the deep green of the valley below as our trail leveled out above the clouds. We continued past farms, grazing cattle and a few houses before coming upon a large soccer field carved out in the dirt, marking the entrance to the town. An ancient reservoir, its roof had long since crumbled away. It was the only water access we could see. As I peered over the mossy bricks, I could see a thick layer of algae and tadpoles swimming around in the dark water below. We met briefly with the Chef of the village, talking about the challenges they were facing, and promised to return soon with filters and a plan to implement a rain catchment system to alleviate their water needs.

On the way out we stopped at a small emergency clinic to check in with the doctor regarding reports of cholera cases in the area. Fortunately, he hadn’t seen a single case come in for many years, and took us out back to see the CDC tent that had been set up following the earthquake. Inside, years of dust had settled on IV equipment and other medical supplies, four beds lay scattered about, each with a thick sheet of white plastic serving as a mattress, a hole cut out in the center over which a patient would be positioned. It was easy to imagine the fear and chaos a large-scale outbreak could bring to a remote region like this, the patients lying there, barely hanging on as nurses tried to rehydrate them before they perished.

The feeling in the country on the subject is not one of optimism. Cholera has a tendency to start very slowly in the most remote communities, then explode through a population before anyone has a chance to treat it. I spoke with many of the biggest NGO’s over the past few days, and each of them felt like we are barely ahead of it right now, but as soon as it gets ahead of us, it will be completely overwhelming. There are already reports coming in of entire villages being decimated before the news of the first outbreak has a chance to reach anyone. As depressing as it is, it validates our work here and makes me feel more confident in the direction of our work in the coming months.

Oct 19 - 2016Field Update 1

Greetings from Haiti,

It’s been just about two weeks since Hurricane Matthew made landfall on the South Western tip of Haiti. Two long, hard weeks for millions of people affected by this catastrophic event. In retrospect, I went into this one a little cocky, I think, mostly because I feel so comfortable in Haiti. It felt like no matter how bad it was going to be, it was happening in a place that feels like a second home. I thought the relief plan/action would also be easier because we have such a solid, extensive local network and team there. And I thought my own psychological capacity would be more balanced on this one because I had gone through it before, in the same country. I assumed a bunch of things…

Well, the universe sure has a way of humbling us. In other words, I was mistaken on just about everything.

By day two on the ground, our W4W country director, Fritz Pierre Louis, and I, sat shaking our heads in disbelief. We basically had to throw everything that we thought we knew or expected out the window – to start fresh, as if this was an entirely new country. It is a different beast entirely than the 2010 earthquake that leveled Port-au-Prince.

Why? Many reasons, but I’ll list a few:

  • Scope of destruction: Earthquakes have an epicenter – a narrower, more pinpointed area of impact. With hurricanes of this size the swath of destruction can cover hundreds of miles in all directions, leaving town after town after town leveled. The mountain villages see tornado-force winds (140 mph) with flash flooding that turns each valley into a violent river, destroying anything in its path. The coastal towns get the worst of it with those same tornado-force winds mixed with a 15-20 ft+ storm surge (aka tsunami). Basically a storm like Hurricane Matthew is like if a tsunami and a tornado got in a fight. The sheer scale of devastation, the widespread scope, has left many very experienced relief agencies (including us) with the very hard decision of where to start first.
  • Remote area: The majority of the Southwestern tip of Haiti is quite rural. Which means that most of the towns that got hit hardest are small and hard to get to on a normal day – windy coastal roads or mountainous dirt roads the only way in or out. This was before the storm. Now, most of those roads have been compromised, leaving relief capabilities at a bare minimum. For many of these places, supplies can really only be dropped by sea or air, which both tend to have limited payload capacity. This limits not only the speed with which supplies can come in, but the quantity. And with the massive amount of need, quantity is everything at the moment. Normally, relief initiatives will set up a solid distribution outpost in or around all the ground zero areas and then create a regular flow of supplies to feed those outposts (almost always by convoys of large trucks). This just isn’t possible for many of these places, and it won’t be for some time – bridges and roads are washed out, making them only passable via 4x4 vehicles that can traverse the riverbeds.
  • Base of operations: In any good, large-scale/long-term disaster relief initiative, a solid BOO (base of operations) is imperative. This is the place from which teams can do all their planning/staging. It is basically home, office, and everything in between for the duration of the initiative. It needs to be close to ground zero, but with enough breathing room to create a habitable environment. It can often be a scenario as simple/rugged as a camp with tents, or commandeering an old building, or in the best case there are hotels or private rentals available. But in all these cases, we find a way to ensure the teams are safe and have what they need to do their job – power, cell and internet service, food, water, etc. In this case, the only real option was in the city of Les Cayes, which got hit really damn hard itself. But there is an airstrip, it has some hotels still operating on generators, cell service is in and out, and there is water and food accessible. The problem is some of the hardest hit areas are 4-5 hrs drive on 4x4 roads, so the amount one team can do per day, staging from so far away, is incredibly limiting. Until some of the major infrastructural issues in that part of the country are restored (roads, power, etc), which will be months, it’s nearly impossible for relief teams to set up proper long-term operations in those hardest hit areas. The only exceptions are small, targeted teams that can travel lightly in 4x4’s because they don’t have bulky supplies, such as ours (we can carry 200 water filtration systems and 100 solar powered LED lanterns, in two 4x4 vehicles), or medical triage teams. We have seen some of the medical teams already posted up throughout the region, in whatever buildings are still standing. But those aren’t long term operations, as medical is mostly needed in this initial stage.

These are all things I’ve encountered (individually) before, over the many disasters we've worked. But it’s the combination of them all at once that is making this thing such a beast. The only other one I’ve seen with a magnitude like this was Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, which is still known as the largest storm ever recorded. If Haiyan is the largest, then Matthew was its equally evil twin brother, whose only difference is being a few seconds younger.

So, what does all this mean for W4W? After two weeks of traversing the whole Southwest, we now have a very accurate assessment of the hardest hit zones and a good plan to serve them. I shall note, unlike the majority of our other disaster relief initiatives, this one will include a few new categories of relief beyond our normal focus of access to clean water.

Our plan is as follows:

Water: Access to clean water will still be our main focus, with a targeted implementation strategy aimed almost entirely on cholera hotspots. There have been over 20 new (Matthew related) cases of cholera that have popped up and these numbers are expected to rise dramatically in the coming weeks. Clean water is kryptonite for waterborne diseases such as cholera, so the more we target the areas where it is starting to spread, the better chance we have of curbing the amount of cases popping up, and prevent new ones. We did a very similar program in 2011, when the first outbreak happened in the Artibonite department of Haiti. In partnership with UN’s CVR division, we implemented 4,000 water filtration kits, with a full WASH (water, sanitation, hygiene) education protocol/training, directly in two of the epicenters of the outbreak (Mirebalais and Saint Marc). Shortly thereafter, reported cases leveled out. The implementation strategy for our program this time will be very similar – we’ve identified five areas where confirmed cases have popped-up, or ones we feel are most susceptible to developing them. We will focus the majority of our water filter supply on these areas. We realize that so many places need access to clean water (even before the storm), but since we have limited resources and can’t help everyone, we feel that the best way for us to make the biggest impact is to target our efforts, by tackling the cholera issue head on.

    Light: One of the main things that we feel is being overlooked is lighting. The power is out in all of these areas and will be for months. This means that once the sun goes down it is pitch black. There are obvious reasons why this is a challenge, but one of the major issues is safety. Light = community, people gather around any light source when it’s dark. To put it bluntly, a good light source dramatically cuts down the scenario of young women being alone/vulnerable in whatever dark shelter they’re staying. Right now, some families are burning small fires, inside or near their makeshift shelters. Which brings up other safety concerns in terms of breathing in smoke in a confined space, not to mention the incredible discomfort from the added heat alone. It’s already extremely hot, even at night. All of these points, we’ve witnessed personally, and has now brought this topic to the forefront for us. We feel that it is imperative to add this facet to our Matthew Relief Initiative. The lights we are implementing are solar powered LED lanterns that also have a USB port to charge a cellphone, as well as a built in radio (one of the primary ways that rural communities get their news/information). As a last little added bonus, we’ve sourced the lights in-country – so by adding them into our program, we are also contributing to the local economy.

    Cash for work: We are establishing small scale CFW (cash-for-work) programs, focused primarily on rubble/debris removal from, starting with roads and community centers. These types of programs are widely used in development and disaster initiatives around the world. In a disaster situation, it’s a good way to help spark the local economy and fill some of the gaps left from the vacuum that follows a catastrophe such as this. The bottom line – everything has been stripped from these folks (including their jobs) and they need money, so rather than just give straight hand-outs, it's best to employ them, as there is so much to be done and they want/need the work. It's an honest job for services rendered, just like many of them had before. Local residents are already rallying and working for free to help their communities as best they can, but that doesn't put food on the table at the end of the day. The whole thing is overwhelming for them, so something like this helps to restore at least a little normalcy.

Given the conclusions I’ve come to from the last two weeks on the ground and our vast experience in this field, I feel like we are well equipped to not only handle this, but to create a large-scale, long lasting, impact.

I will also note that even though these first two weeks were primarily focused around assessing the situation on the ground, we also started implementing of all three facets of the program. At this point, we've already distributed 500 water filtration systems and 300 solar lanterns in eight communities — Port Salut, Chardonnieres, Port-a-Piment, Coteaux, Les Cayes, Aquin, Jeremie, and Leogane. We've done this through some of our existing local networks and in collaboration with NGO partners such as (Les Cayes based) Hope for Haiti and local Rotary Club chapters. Lastly, in terms of our CFW (cash-for-work) initiative, we kicked things off with the clearing of rubble/debris on the main road in Chardonnieres.

As our programs gain more traction in the coming weeks/months, more updates from us will follow. Thanks to all of you who have supported and believed in this initiative so far… this stuff simply doesn’t happen without you.

Thank you,


Statistics & Progress

Destination Haiti

Funds Raised
$93,469 of $150,000

Impact 150,000+