In Haiti, IRC and Quake Survivors Work Together to Improve Living Conditions
Ednisse Georges’s house in the Village Canarin neighborhood used to have a small kitchen in an outdoor courtyard. When Ednisse went out to the kitchen on the afternoon of January 12 to prepare some grapefruit juice, her thirst wound up saving her life. When the earthquake suddenly struck, her house collapsed as did most buildings in Village Canarin. But Ednisse survived.
Ednisse’s husband, an accountant at a pharmaceutical company, also survived the quake. But the building where he worked was severely damaged and he is out of work. The couple’s three children were missing for a few tense days before they were reunited with their parents. “Those were the longest few days in my life,” Ednisse says.
Now the family lives in a “tent”—little more than a sheet hung on sticks—in Villambetta, a settlement of displaced people from Village Canarin that sprung up near the airport after the earthquake. Ednisse, a charming 39-year-old with a contagious laugh, is a member of a sanitation committee that is working to improve living conditions for the residents of Villambetta. Working with the International Rescue Committee (IRC), Ednisse has helped supervise the construction of latrines and bath shelters.
“We were amazed at the initiative taken by the inhabitants of Villambetta,” says Melody Munz, the IRC Emergency Response Team’s environmental health coordinator, “including putting women on the camp committee.”
In the days following the earthquake, the Emergency Response Team assessed the condition of people living in several of Port-au-Prince’s settlements and determined there was an urgent need for latrines and bath shelters. In Villambetta, for example, displaced people have been eating, washing and going to the bathroom outside, raising serious concerns of an outbreak of cholera and other deadly diseases—concerns that latrines can help alleviate. At the same time, bath shelters offer privacy and a sense of dignity to people who been forced to bathe in front of strangers for weeks.
With the IRC providing technical expertise, tools and building materials -- and labor provided by workers selected by the sanitation committee -- four latrines and four bath shelters have been erected over the last week. Some 20 additional latrines and 10 bath shelters are expected to be completed by the end of this week.
According to sanitation experts, the international standard for emergencies such as Haiti’s is one latrine for every 20 people. ”In Port-au-Prince, the Haitian government and international aid agencies have agreed that one toilet for every 50 people will have to do,” says Sam Gonzaga, the emergency team’s environmental health coordinator, “and even this may be a difficult standard to achieve.”
An unofficial census taken by Villambetta’s residents shows that 2700 people are living in the settlement—only 600 of them adults. Every day, however, even more makeshift tents spring up. An already large settlement threatens to grow even larger in the days ahead. To meet the residents' growing need the IRC plans to build an additional 20 latrines and 10 bath shelters with more to come.
As construction continues Ednisse and the workers laugh and decide that what Villambetta needs is a ceremony to mark the opening of the makeshift community’s first completed latrines and bath shelters.
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