accessibility & help

Haiti: volunteers clear canals and fight cholera

6 December 2010

Haiti volunteers clearing waste from drainage canalsAs cholera continues to spread across Haiti, a community canal-clearing project is underway in the capital, as part of a sanitation, shelter and livelihoods programme helping people get back on their feet.

The British Red Cross project in Delmas 19, Port-au-Prince, is helping a community where the earthquake destroyed houses and drainage canals, rubble still blocks roads and alleyways and broken pipes spout water across the area.

The sanitation facilities there were almost non-existent before the quake, and the destruction of what little there was has meant residents have turned to using broken pipes for washing and for their water supply, using open canals as toilets and rubbish dumps.

Community involvement

Chris Brewer, British Red Cross sanitation manager, explained: “All these elements are linked together and helping people recover is not only about building houses or toilets. It also requires community involvement to identify problems and solutions to reduce future risks, such as implementing a communal public health plan, clearing rubble and drainage canals, and identifying possible shelter solutions for both owners and renters.”

Around 100 community volunteers came forward immediately to get involved with the project, beginning with clearing the drainage canals that are blocked with waste and cause regular flooding of the neighbourhood, particularly during the rainy season.

Community volunteers

Vanette Janvier, 23, one of the community team leaders, works under the hot Haitian sun filling sacks of rubbish with seemingly endless quantities of foul smelling refuse. She said: “When it rains in our neighbourhood, the canals overflow because of all the rubbish. People’s homes get flooded, and they can’t sleep at night. Many have to evacuate to higher ground until the water level recedes.

“I’ve been living here for most of my life. I’m happy to be doing something for the community and I take pride in my work.  This job that we are doing is going to really help people in the neighbourhood and improve their quality of life.”

Chris said: “As well as the obvious benefits clearing the canal will bring, this project is also an opportunity for us to get to know the community. We want to encourage them to take things into their own hands and make them realise that they can work as a team and get tangible results.”

Sustainable solutions

“Clearing the canal is also a prequel to getting a long-term sustainable solid waste management system in place,” Chris explained. “We are installing bins in the community and replacing the one toilet in the neighbourhood – an open hole over the canal – with proper latrines that will be maintained by the community. Our support will also expand into supporting small business development and helping find shelter solutions for people who lost their homes.”

It is not only about providing alternative solutions to rubbish dumping, but also about changing mindsets. This is particularly important at a time when cholera is spreading across the city, and areas with little sanitation infrastructure are likely to be badly affected. Red Cross hygiene promotion volunteers are touring Delmas 19 spreading messages both about cholera prevention and safe and healthy waste disposal.

Chris said: “No one wants their homes flooded with rubbish, or to defecate above an open canal. This is the just the first step in a two-year plan to help regenerate the neighbourhood and we are already seeing improvements for the lives of residents in Delmas 19.”

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