AC360° Digital Producer
(CNN) – Actor and activist Sean Penn says one of the key aspects to gaining control of the fast-moving cholera outbreak in Haiti is the simplest of human necessities.
“One of the things that people have to understand,” Penn tells CNN’s Anderson Cooper, “ - they say, well, don’t use the water; the water is contaminated. The only way that people will pay attention to that is if clean water is provided. So, whether that’s through filtration systems or trucked in water, this is going to be the essential element – water, water, water.”
Penn, a co-founder of Haitian relief organization J/P HRO, visited Haiti over the weekend, just days after news broke about the cholera outbreak in the earthquake-ravaged country.
“It’s bad,” Penn says of the conditions in the Caribbean nation, devastated by a magnitude 7.0 earthquake on January 12. Nearly a quarter million people died and more than 1.6 million were left homeless as tens of thousands of homes and commercial buildings, as well as basic infrastructure, were destroyed.
“What we know about it at this point,” Penn says of the outbreak, “is that it is affecting a very regional area, in particular the epicenter of it, but it’s spreading very fast.”
Related: Cholera can be deadly within hours
In an interview that airs Monday on AC360°, Penn also told Cooper that there are concerns about whether there are enough medical supplies and medical personnel available in Haiti to treat those who are infected. In a situation where reaching patients with medication and treatment within a specific timeframe is of the utmost importance, he is also concerned that medical supplies might be caught up being processed through warehouses.
“It’s very, very bad now,” he says.
“It’s spreading at a very rapid rate. It spreads very, very easily,” he adds.
The actor’s relief organization runs one of the many camps sheltering Haitians until more permanent housing is available, and Penn says his camp is preparing to treat the outbreak if that becomes necessary.
“We’re stockpiling [supplies] now but it’s slow and our access has been disappointing to those supplies in country. We have those things that we’re initiating ourselves and with support we’ll be able to do a lot more.”
With the help of Oxfam, J/P HRO’s camp has chlorinated water, Penn says. “While it’s not pleasant to drink, it’s safe to drink and to wash with and to wash fruits and vegetables with. There are many, many camps that don’t have those services.”
In the interview, Penn also weighs in on the slow pace of the recovery effort in Haiti, one of the poorest nations in the Western Hemisphere.
Watch the interview beginning at 10 p.m. ET on Anderson Cooper 360°.
Anderson Cooper goes beyond the headlines to tell stories from many points of view, so you can make up your own mind about the news. Tune in weeknights at 8 and 10 ET on CNN.
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