October 25th, 2010
08:45 PM ET

Penn on dealing with cholera in Haiti: 'Water, water, water'

Martina Stewart
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.

Related: Health organizations worry that Haiti's cholera outbreak could spread

“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°.

Filed under: 360° Radar • 360º Follow • Haiti • Martina Stewart
soundoff (17 Responses)
  1. michael crawley

    The daily grind of poverty does not make the headlines as readily as a sudden onslaught of tragedy. Unfortunately, it often requires a dramatic event to focus our attention on the misery of others. Their daily suffering goes unreported and therefore is ignored. Tragedy that happens in slow motion does not garner the headlines the way a single climatic moment does. But it is human suffering all the same. It requires a continuous response to alleviate the day in and day out agony just as a sudden disaster requires immediate action. In nations where poverty is rampant, any type of natural disaster is magnified many times over. The sub-standard infrastructure, the shoddily constructed housing, the lack of government oversight all contribute to make the death toll climb. These are issues that need to be addressed BEFORE a disaster strikes. That is why making a monthly contribution to fight poverty in Haiti and other places is so important. It is wonderful that humanity responds so well in times of emergency, but we need to realize that a steady effort is required to erase poverty and its effects. A long term effort is necessary to help people survive the next disaster.

    October 26, 2010 at 6:01 am |
  2. Mary Holzapfel

    Sean and Anderson , I am troubled when you report that only a
    handful of pledges have come in. I am Canadian and I and
    many other canadians have pledged and given.
    Our Prime minister has said that Canada would match private
    pledges. Can you list who has and who has not as yet given
    and made well on their pledges. If I hear that Canada has not
    yet sent the cheque then I will write to the prime minister and
    CHEQUE. Get the people to help you help the people of Haiti.
    Thank you to Sean and Anderson for caring so much.
    M. Holzapfel
    BC. Canada.

    October 26, 2010 at 2:30 am |
  3. Scott

    We don't care.

    October 26, 2010 at 1:44 am |
  4. Dave

    Thanks for that gripping report Sean (rolls eyes). Hey CNN, isn't this what you have REPORTERS for?

    October 26, 2010 at 1:20 am |
  5. Robert Stroney

    There doesn't appear to be any working government in Haiti, yet. Time for their government to release funds to rebuild their infrastructure, etc. Here's an opportunity to make some money – The U.S.A. could make all the steel for the reconstruction of Haiti if we had new green, clean, high-tech steel mills. You know those steel mills I've been hinting [at]?

    The holdup is corruption based and it needs to be cleaned up before any large Company will commit its' services – but that is no excuse for this dirty /deadly water issue in Haiti. There should be depots dotted around the island setup like Sean Penn's Camp.

    October 26, 2010 at 12:43 am |
  6. jean

    ATTN: Mr. Penn,
    Thank you so very much for your work in Haiti! How can we help you?

    October 25, 2010 at 11:37 pm |
  7. Damian Stogner

    Lets get Haiti some water! God Bless!

    October 25, 2010 at 11:17 pm |
  8. tammy carden

    its a wonderful thing that all the stars want to help people in need. but are they familar with the phrase. chairity begins at home.? children and elderly are going hungry and doing without healthcare right here!

    October 25, 2010 at 11:02 pm |
  9. Wayne Bates

    Many things have been written and said about Sean Penn over the years, some not so good. One thing that needs to be said is his dedication to bringing the plight of those suffering in Haiti.
    This man seems to have given up the good life to stay on top of the situation in this impoverished country. The world could use a lot more people like Sean.

    October 25, 2010 at 10:48 pm |
  10. Michael

    Sean may be a nut sometimes, but he is the real deal.. he has been on the ground in Haiti since the beginning. He is right about this…

    October 25, 2010 at 10:44 pm |
  11. Steve

    Cholera is bad. The solution is not more people to treat the sick, the solution is prevention – cheap but effective filtration systems readily available by folding used cotton cloth over four times. Its not perfect but it may work.

    Come on Mr. Penn, get out of the money business and into the business of thinking.


    October 25, 2010 at 10:22 pm |
  12. Ken Wenger

    Seems to me that Haiti is a failed nation and that the UN could put themselves back on the map by offering to create the first "world nation". Internationalize the country for a 15 year period, bring in money, manufacturing as a tax free harbor, offer significant tax incentives and govern the country in a manner that could act as model for the future. The 15 year term would offer stability and then when the people of Haiti are educated, their health, food, clothing and housing secured, elections would be held again to ensure their sovereignty once again.

    October 25, 2010 at 10:20 pm |
  13. rev sam weekes of pensacola fl

    Yes I will like to say its real bad I visit the area and my church is doing all we can do but wish I had more help,since the quake I have about close to 3,000 men children and women that I personally go there to help I will be heading bac to educate the people about this,its not enough jus to say don't drink the water but supply them with a better way its the only way they know and we have to help them change that thank you.

    October 25, 2010 at 10:19 pm |
  14. Cynical Randy

    We can only hope it gets The Activist. I'm sick and tired of celebrities on the scene telling us what to think...how to vote....and generally being in the way.

    October 25, 2010 at 10:07 pm |
  15. Helen

    Sean Penn has proved time and time again what a great humanitarian he is. Where's Wycleff. Love you, stay well and safe.

    October 25, 2010 at 9:42 pm |
  16. Eugenia - San Francisco

    wasn't there millions of dollars donated to Haiti? it is horrifying to me that something as simple as purifying water can not be fulfilled.

    October 25, 2010 at 9:21 pm |
  17. Annie Kate

    Hope we don't see the Haitian government and corruption delay clean water and medical help to the people that need it. It's scary to think that red tape may stand between the people living or dying of cholera.

    October 25, 2010 at 8:55 pm |