Keeping Haiti’s camps clean

Trash clogs a culvert pipe in a canal lining the Solino camp in Port au Prince. The canals have been identified as a priority area and the Caritas/CRS cash for work programme, as the massive clogs will cause flooding when the rains arrive, greatly increasing the risk of disease. Port-au-Prince, Haiti. David Snyder/CRS

By Nana Anto-Awuakye, Cafod (Caritas England and Wales).

It rained overnight. A driving downpour no umbrella could protect you from. Rain like this just adds to the tough conditions faced by those Haitians still living in tents.

Working with communities to ensure camp settlements can cope when it rains is crucial to ensure camps don’t become a breeding ground for diseases such as cholera and typhoid.

Caritas is running public health education awareness programmes in the camps. Fabiola, coordinator HAT1 camp, told me before this litter and human waste was a real health risk whenever it rained.

Today the camp is run by a camp committee with support from Caritas members such as Catholic Relief Services (CRS is a US based Caritas member).

Ten latrines and four washrooms have been built.  So far there have been no cases of diarrhoea and the alleyways between each tightly packed tent are kept clear of rubbish.   Everyone is encouraged to recycle their empty plastic bottles and station points have been erected around the camp where people can recycle their waste.

Signs of initiative and ingenuity are all around us. The debris from the earthquake has been put to good use, with fallen slabs of concrete used as ‘bridges’ to cover drains.  Clean water is now provided by the newly-installed blue ‘water bladder’ – imagine a large blow up bed full of water, with a large screw top lid in the middle for water refills.

The ‘bladder’ is raised up on a bed of rubble for stability, as the person in charge of maintaining it carefully sweeps off any excess water that may have formed on the top. This is a direct result of the lessons that those living in the camp have been taught: do not allow stagnant pools of water to gather as this can attract mosquitoes.

When women do their daily clothes washing, they chant a public health song, designed to get the message across on how to use the latrines properly and how to wash your hands afterwards:  ‘We are scrubbing them (hands) thoroughly… with soap in between each finger’, they chant quietly.

A local sanitation expert I met later told me that a family of five will produce on average three litres of human waste a day, making community engagement the key to good public health management in the camps.

After visiting the camps, we walked a short distance to the local Catholic Church, Saint Jude, where the first stage consultation with the camp representatives was to take place.  I didn’t realise it was a church until I entered through the tarpaulin flaps and saw the wooden pews and the altar.

It was fascinating to see a place of worship also being used as a place where people could express their views and opinions and to make decisions on how they might start to improve their circumstances.

Right now, it’s hard to know how the future will pan out for the Haiti. There are elections in November and international promises to ‘build back better’ are still perceived by many as words with little action.

What I have seen is that Haitians are taking up the challenge I see emblazoned on so many t-shirts, expressed in different ways but with a central message which calls on all Haitians to ‘hold hands and work together.’

An unedited version of this article first appeared on the Cafod blog

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Filed under Conflicts and Disasters, Emergencies, Emergencies in Haiti, Haiti, Latin America

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