Jean-Claude Fignolé: “Many families have lost everything.”

How bad is the situation on the ground currently?

Hurricane Matthew was one of the biggest storms ever recorded in the region. In some of the worst affected areas of Haiti, the damage is on a par with the 2010 earthquake: homes have been flattened or had their roofs torn off, bridges, roads and power lines washed away. Many schools and health clinics have been destroyed or severely damaged. Many families have lost everything but the clothes they are wearing.

In the southern departments of Sud and Grande-Anse, which were hardest hit by the 145mph winds, the United Nations estimates 750,000 people are in need of emergency aid. Across the country, more than two million people – including half a million children – have been affected. Tens of thousands of people are homeless, living outdoors, exposed to the elements or in crowded temporary shelters, in urgent need of medicine, food, clean water and sanitation facilities.

According to international reports, over 1,000 people have died. We’re now worried that without enough rapid support, the aftermath of the storm will prove even more deadly. Some areas of the southern peninsula of the country are still cut off and we fear that the numbers of reported deaths could increase considerably as emergency teams manage to reach these areas.

What’s the most pressing concern?

We’re especially worried about people that live in remote areas who’ve not been able to get assistance yet. These people are in urgent need of clean water and food.

We’re also anxious that a renewed outbreak of cholera could spread quickly because water infrastructure’s been so damaged and people are now exposed to dirty and contaminated drinking water. There have already been around 130 new cases of suspected cholera. Oxfam’s priority is to make sure people have safe water and toilet facilities, to help prevent the spread of cholera and other diseases like diarrhoea. We’ve been distributing hygiene kits with water purification tabs, soap and buckets, and our engineers are installing clean water tanks and toilets.

Making sure people have enough to eat, now and in the coming months, is essential. In the worst affected southwest of the island, 80 per cent of the population relies on subsistence agriculture to feed their families and make a living. But the storm has ruined crops, drowned animals, and destroyed farms.

Vulnerable people who were already poor and living precariously day to day have lost everything, and most don’t have savings to fall back on. The international community needs to provide immediate help so that parents can feed their children, and longer-term support so they can get back on their feet – for example, providing seeds and tools to replant vegetable plots.

Is the outside world doing enough to helpHaiti, or do people there feel ‘forgotten’?

When disaster strikes, neighbours and families support each other first. But when the scale of the crisis outstrips a community’s ability to cope, support from the global community is essential to saving lives.

The Haitian Prime Minister has appealed to the UN and international community for assistance and there are many organisations on the ground working to provide food, shelter and medical aid. Governments around the world have also pledged funds to deal with the emergency.

However there are many people who are still unreachable because of the damage to roads. Where possible, aid is being sent by boat or helicopter to reach those in isolated parts.

What can people reading this do to help?

Many charities have launched emergency appeals. The scale of need is huge. By donating to Oxfam, you can help us to provide clean water, food and rebuild homes in Haiti.

Travel can often help a country, by bringing in much needed money. But many travellers might currently be put off visiting. What would your advice be?

The picture is mixed. The southwest of Haiti bore the brunt of the storm and its picturesque fishing villages like Port-Salut are currently strewn with debris. But in other parts of the island, the scene is very different, with tourism continuing in the northern area of Labadee or Cap-Haitian, home to the Sans-Souci Palace, for example.

Tourism provides many jobs to Haitians and is an important industry for the country. The best thing for travellers is to consult the latest advice and use their own judgment about when and where to visit.

What do you want to see happen inHaiti?

Right now, the priority is to make sure people are safe and healthy, with clean water, enough to eat and hygienic living conditions. We need to get aid in quickly and support rapid reconstruction so people can move out of crowded temporary shelters and back into their homes.

Repairing roads, buildings and infrastructure, like power lines, will take a lot of coordinated work from the government and people of Haiti, with the support of the international community.

It’s important to build tough structures that can better withstand future storms. And there’s an urgent need to plant crops to replace the destroyed harvest, to help prevent food shortages and malnutrition. People we’ve met say they want to get on with their lives as soon as possible. They just need the resources and support to do this.

To donate to Oxfam’s work in Haiti, see

Mother and baby in Haiti (Fran Afonso/Oxfam Intermón)

Simon Reeve Twitter Q&A – the best bits

Which country most surprised you when you visited in terms of being different from expectations?

Haiti really surprised me with beauty and a warm welcome. So many people had warned us about Haiti, especially in the Dominican Republic! But it was stunning; the team and I were blown away. That’s not to say you should ignore the poverty, but there’s another side as well: Haiti has amazing history and scenery.

The mainland of Honduras was a shock as well, as I hadn’t fully realised how violent it is. That said, it’s beautiful off the coast – I dived the Mesoamerican Reef.

What jobs can UK residents get to help Haiti rebuild its infrastructure?

They need long-term help, a long-term plan, and the complete structure of a functioning state. We need to send teachers to transfer knowledge and invest in the next generation. We definitely should get involved, because European powers helped to create the situation they’re in.

What do you think makes a good travel journal?

Buckets of flair, authenticity, imagination, and passion.

Is there anywhere in the world you haven’t been that you would still like to go to?

Hell yeah! I’ve been so lucky – 110 countries and counting. But there are so many places I’d still love to visit: Russia, Canada, Japan, Senegal, Bolivia, New Zealand, Iceland, Papua New Guinea, Iran, Zambia, Yemen, Costa Rica, Chad… We live in such an amazing world!

What is the one luxury you take with you on all adventures?

The ONE?! I take loads! Pictures, flapjacks, teabags, a bit of chocolate (just for the team of course…)

How do you see the world before and after you travel to so many stunning places?

Obviously my travels have opened my eyes and mind, but I think they’ve left me with more questions than answers. I’ve been travelling extensively for more than 10 years, and I’ve certainly seen the world changing in that time. I see the planet as a very organic place; everything is connected – culturally, politically, geographically. Everyone’s our cousin. Everything is inter-dependent. We screw with it at our utter peril.

If you weren’t an adventurer and journalist, what would you be doing?

I’d probably be scribbling books that nobody reads… Never become an author, unless you can’t stop yourself!

Do you make notes as you travel or do you remember experiences and write them up later?

I’ve got one of the world’s best TV teams following me around making a permanent record! I’ve got a memory like a sieve, to be honest (but at least that means everywhere feels fresh and new!). I made notes on the road while writing my Tropic of Capricorn book, and tried mp3 dictating in the car but my team couldn’t stop laughing…!

You seem to develop meaningful relationships with your guides. Do you ever keep in touch?

I try to keep in touch, but it’s hard. Email helps!

Guides help make the journeys what they are. They give travellers such unique experiences – guides have a local brain and interpret so much more than just language.

How important do you think it is for children to travel and see the world?

It can transform them. Just don’t let them sit by a pool – get them out doing things! I think they need to know how lucky they are, and travel can help them realise that. Tap + fresh water = privilege! I can’t wait to take my lad to amazing places. I’m keen to go to Bangladesh and show him its beauty and also the reality of living conditions for most humans.

Simon’s current TV series, Caribbean can be found on BBC2 on Sundays at 8pm

Main Image BBC/Craig Hastings

Andy Kershaw: No Off Switch Part 2

Andy Kershaw is perhaps best known for his passion for music from around the world, but he is also a highly-respected foreign correspondent. He has found himself at the centre of some of the biggest stories of our generation: the invasion of Kuwait; the genocide in Rwanda; and more recently, the earthquake in Haiti.

The chapter on his experiences in Rwanda in No Off Switch makes particularly harrowing reading.

In your book you say that you wish you were nineteen in 1969 not nine.

The feeling that I wished I’d been ten years older at the end of the sixties dawned on me when I was older – maybe 14 or 15. Not only was I was more aware of the music being made back then in 1968 and 1969, it was the political upheaval going on around the world too.

I was thinking, “Shit, I wish I were old enough to throw rocks at the American embassy in Grosvenor Square and I wish I’d been old enough to see the Stones in the park and I wish I’d been old enough to see Bob Dylan on his electric tour with The Band in ’66.”

Yet, perversely, in the late 80’s you were in the right place, at the right time, at the right age.

Absolutely. I count myself as bloody lucky to be around for punk, although I never adorned myself with safety pins. I was selective. I never took the attitude that all punk was great and everything that had gone before was rubbish. I adored a lot of things that came out of punk but weren’t strictly punk, like Elvis Costello and the Attractions, Ian Dury and the Blockheads and the big one for me of course, The Clash. But at the same time I never stopped listening to my Joni Mitchell records.

When you started working as a foreign correspondent it was when the world was being turned on its head…

The late eighties was like the late sixties, but I was part of it. I’d go off by myself, using my own money, and then phone up the BBC or broadsheet newspaper and say, “Hello, I’m here!”

When you’re in foreign correspondent mode, are you still looking out for new sounds, new bands, undiscovered talent?

Oh yeah, of course! Definitely, that doesn’t stop. But if you’re in the middle of a civil war, the likelihood of your hearing much music is pretty slim. It’s not your priority.

Having said that, there have been moments. I’ll never forget at a road block in Rwanda – an RPS roadblock, the rebels, the good guys who stopped the genocide. I was travelling with the RPS, so when we came up to the roadblock they all piled out. They were exchanging information with the guys manning this barrier and the whole country was still and silent. One of these lads had a ghetto blaster and he started playing Cecile Kayirebwa. It was the spookiest thing I’ve ever heard.

Generally speaking, though, front lines of war zones aren’t over run with guitarists and accordion players.

You’ve been to Haiti over twenty times…

It’s simultaneously one of the most exhilarating and exasperating countries in the world. The Haitians are remarkable.

You were angered by the coverage of the country after the earthquake.

It was the attitude of a lot of foreign reporters there, even some BBC ones. Their attitudes towards Haiti, their presumptions towards Haiti, the mythology of Haiti. It was all about violence, violence, violence and there was none. I slammed it in a double-paged piece in the Independent.

What I saw was an incredible stoicism and resourcefulness and dignity in the face of an appalling tragedy, on top of the suffering they’ve endured for decades. I hate to quote Dylan about it but “If you ain’t got nothing you ain’t got nothing to lose.” The Haitians never had anything and from a zero base they were put back even further.

As I pointed out in the article, the Haitians will do it for themselves if they’re allowed to and they’re given what they needed. But there was a whole industry of aid organisations down there and piling everything up in the airports and not handing it out because of security concerns. It was just awful.

But that’s why I have so much respect for the Haitians. They are the most self contained, imaginative, resourceful and strong people leading lives that must seem, if you’re Haitian, one permanent humiliation.

You visited Angola in 1996. In the book you describe leaning against a crate of BM-21 Katyusha rockets at the Halo Trust HQ flicking through a wallet of CDs and coming across a Warren Zevon one.

What a great moment that was! You couldn’t have scripted that! I was leaning against high explosives, enough, probably, to take out the whole town. When Lawyers, Guns and Money came on I thought “Warren Zevon would have loved this, the in which I was listening to his song.”

I was lucky enough to have Warren play on my very last Radio 1 programme. I told him the story and he thought it was fantastic. To the extent that when he got up at the end, put a twelve string around his neck and said something like “I know you’ve been waiting for this one Andy”.

(Andy hums first bars of song then sings “I went home with a waitress, the way I always do”)

He gets to the line that should have been “I was gambling in Havana, I took a little risk” he changed it there and then, God bless him, to “I was gambling in Angola, I took a little risk, send lawyers, guns and money, hey! Get me out of this.”

It was wonderful. It ended up with me and him sitting in the studio at the end of the recording and saying, “When are you next going to Haiti? I’d like to come with you.’ Phone numbers were swapped, it was all agreed, then the poor bugger got cancer and he was dead within a short space of time.

The work you did with Music Planet took you to some remote corners of the world

That was one of the things that excited me about Music Planet. We generally went to places that even I had never been to before.

A different kind of music as well. Throat singers in Siberia, for example…

I think I’ve had my life’s quota of throat singers now!

How was that? It seemed to be more about going into communities rather than into a bar in Kinshasa.

I was lucky enough on those Music Planet trips to have had the production and research manpower of the powers at Radio 3 who organised these trips a lot more than I organise the solo trips of my own. I just buy an airline ticket, grab my rucksack and just set off. They do something called planning.

Andy Kershaw is a radio DJ and foreign correspondent. His autobiography, No Off Switch, is available now on Amazon.

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