Haiti report 3: Birth of a Project


Recently, I accompanied our water and drainage specialist for an assessment of needs in the field. I love these privileged moments, to go in search of those with whom we will work hand-in-hand to develop projects. To form an answer to a problem is, above all, to talk with the people, to understand how they live, to take in their daily existence, and especially, to hear their problems, listen to their needs - to not show up with preconceived ideas.

In the coordination meetings between the organizations working in partnership in Haiti, the Haitian civil servants and the United Nations, a number of priorities emerge that we are going to confirm in the field. In one of the areas most affected by the floods, homes float like houseboats on a lake -- sad wreckages suspended by water.

On the side of the road, a small business sells beverages and a few supplies. We stop to talk with the small business owners, who speak with us mostly about hygiene problems. They no longer have a house and live in a temporary shelter. This is not their stall; they set up shop there because the owner left. One of the women brings up the issue about the lack of a toilet and the difficulty of going to the bathroom. All of them complain about the impossibility of finding clean water for bathing, and especially for drinking.

In this city invaded by mud, where all of the wells are contaminated, it”s nearly impossible to find clean water. It is often necessary to walk quite a ways to reach the few fountains with safe water, and then wait in long, tiring lines to obtain the precious liquid. So many people give up; they”re already are worn out by the hardship they have just gone through. They are constantly clearing waste and debris - all day long. They must also take on the added responsibility of looking after all of the children who should be in school, but the schools are closed due to their total devastation.

In the streets of Gonaives, children bath in puddles of brackish water; the young and the old drink this unhealthy water, giving all of them ravaging diarrhea. Nearly all of the women we speak with admit to having vaginal infections. In this kiosk, at the edge of the road, I hear about their health problems, ones that inevitably follow disasters gastric problems, gynecological problems, typhoid fever. And that”s not all. Another major problem is malaria. The stagnant waters all around us are the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes. They need mosquito nets, by the thousands.

We return to the office, and Andrea and the team put together a plan for prioritizing and establishing our course of action. The main objectives are apparent - dredge the river in order to ensure that it doesn”t overflow and produce another catastrophe from future rains; distribute hygiene kits and aquatabs (little tablets that purify water), step up our regular public awareness programs on malaria and implement a large-scale, national hygiene public awareness campaign to explain basic steps for preventing diarrhea, typhoid and other water-borne illnesses.

One of the young women whom we are talking with is eight months pregnant. I wonder about this baby”s arrival into the world. In what conditions will the mother give birth? Will she find a spot in the only hospital that is still open? And if not, will she be able to have a birth hygienic enough to not put her and her baby”s life in danger? How will she take care of a little baby in such an unhealthy environment?

It doesn't seem that these questions are not crossing their minds. Everyone bustles about, trying to find his or her way back to a life a little more normal, despite the chaos which reigns over the city. To clean, feed oneself and survive, to find solutions and move forward.

Life is fragile in the streets of Gonaives, hanging on like a trickle water. Life pulsates in the streets of Gonaives, its inhabitants holding on to it and always getting up, in spite of the circumstances.

Our drainage needs assessment expert and I assess that which will not appear in any official report or technical evaluation: clean water is desperately needed, but they certainly have guts in Gonaives.