accessibility & help

Three months on: sanitation in Haiti is paramount

12 April 2010

Row of tarpaulin homes© InfoThree months on from Haiti’s devastating earthquake, basic sanitation is still an urgent need, and with the rainy season on its way the situation could deteriorate further.

Mike Goodhand, head of international logistics at the British Red Cross, said: “In an ideal situation, we would have one latrine for every 20 people, but the challenges within Auto-Meca and La Piste camps, where the British Red Cross is working, mean that the reality is closer to one latrine for every 200 people. Although our plans are on target for one latrine for 100 people by the end of April, in other areas, that figure is far worse.

“Lack of space and supply chain challenges for building materials have had an impact on the numbers of latrines we can build. At the same time we have had to modify and test new latrine designs to accommodate working in densely populated areas in an urban setting of concrete and impermeable ground. We have to be realistic about constraints, and work around them to reach the most vulnerable people as effectively as possible.”

Flood-resistant latrines

“The emphasis now is on reducing the threat posed by the rainy season. We are concentrating our efforts on building flood-resistant latrines and improving drainage,” Mike said. “Many camps have been set up in places where drainage is insufficient, and the top soil on these settlements is now contaminated with bacteria. Flooding, on top of this situation, could create a public health disaster.”

Latrines being pumped in a camp© InfoSo far the Red Cross has provided more than 1,300 latrines in camps across Port-Au-Prince and Leogane, which was at the epicentre of the quake, about 18 miles west of the capital.

The British Red Cross sent an emergency sanitation team, supported by GlaxoSmithKline, into Port-au-Prince immediately after the quake hit. These experts and Haitian Red Cross staff and volunteers have been working tirelessly to improve sanitation, garbage removal and hygiene education in the camps, but Haiti’s needs are ongoing and vast.

Threat of rains

The torrential downpours Haitians cope with annually – with as much as 230mm expected in May – can last as long as five days straight, and this year pose an even deadlier threat. The country faces a grave humanitarian emergency, with hundreds of thousands of people crammed into 433 improvised camps.

Volunteers from the Haitian Red Cross are stepping up their efforts to dig drainage ditches in the camps to channel dirty water away from people’s living areas.

Hundreds of Haitian Red Cross leaders, staff and volunteers, who are trusted and accepted in their communities, are enabling the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement to continue bringing essential aid to people in Haiti.

Read stories from survivors of Haiti's quake

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