Haiti: Living on a landfill

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It rained overnight, not the pitter-patter light rain we often hear in the UK, but a driving heavy downpour, which no umbrella however big, 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.  

CAFOD – working through its sister partner Catholic Relief Services (CRS) – is running public health education awareness programmes in its 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 CRS.  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, i.e. not to allow stagnant pools of water to gather, as this can attract mosquitoes.

 When women do their daily clothes washing, they chant a public health ditty, 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.

Living in a Haitian camp 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.

I’d heard that CAFOD’s Senior Humanitarian Officer, Robert Cruickshank, who has spent a lot of time in Haiti since the earthquake struck, had been sharing his public health technical skills with Haitian staff recruited by CRS. 

When I saw him, he was just finishing a three-day workshop with Haitians from varied backgrounds: social workers, nurses and teachers, all wanting to make their contribution to Haiti’s recovery.  It is really important that Haitians deliver this kind of education awareness to camp communities; they understand the context and culture they are operating in.  But that’s not to say that they don’t also get a hard time on occasion when camp communities vent their frustrations.

Robert and I left together for HAT 4B camp, home to 270 families living under canvas in HAT 4B, with 300 more living in its neighbouring extension camp, HAT4A.

Community representatives from HAT 4B met us outside the entrance of their camp. They comprised a mix of women and men, young and old. As we waited for everyone to gather, Robert pointed out the inches of thick plastic waste that the camp was now sitting on – people were literally living on top of a landfill site.

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.  But 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.’

Posted by NanaA

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1 Comment

Filed under CAFOD, Haiti

One response to “Haiti: Living on a landfill

  1. Pingback: Keeping Haiti’s camps clean « Caritas Internationalis

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