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Getting water and sanitation up and running in Haiti

Day One – 17 January
I arrived at about 2am in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic after the flight from London. After a couple of hours sleep we hit the road. We travelled in a convoy of 13 vehicles including minibuses, 4x4s, and two security vehicles. At the border there was a lot of activity: some people were leaving from Haiti, and aid convoys were entering. People were camped at the border, not sure if they could cross. It made me think that only the lucky ones could get out of Haiti — there must be hundreds of thousands who can’t get out. I wondered what difficulties we would face working in the conditions in the affected area. We arrived after a 7-hour trip, through some horrendous traffic, at the US embassy. Once we arrived we were met by a driver and taken to Save the Children’s offices.

Day Two – 18 January
Today I went to find out what other agencies were working in water and sanitation in response to the earthquake. We need to coordinate our efforts to avoid duplication and ensure there are no gaps in the aid being delivered. I went to one of the makeshift camps set up in the grounds of the Prime Minister’s Office. 10,000 people are living in cramped conditions, lying on the floor – some people had strung up sheets to protect themselves from the sun. They hadn’t received any water for 24 hours and there were only four filthy toilets. I spoke with the Prime Minister’s sister who was visibly upset when she spoke of the earthquake: “This is the worst tragedy I can remember – I don’t know how we are going to recover. I hear stories of children who are trapped in the rubble and you can hear them crying.”

Day Three – 19 January
Today we went to 15 sites to assess the situation and work out how we can help to improve the lives of children and their families in the aftermath of the earthquake. We went to one site in Carrefours Feuilles — one of the worst hit areas in Port-au-Prince. It was overwhelming to see the extent of he damage.  How will they rebuild their homes? They will have to almost start all over again.

The capital city will need a complete rebirth. In spite of this, people were trying to get on with their lives. Even with shops collapsed, people have started to set up small market stalls. The camp we went to was really crowded. Mothers we spoke to were scared about the physical and psychological impact of this disaster on their kids.

Day Four – 20 January
Today we trained some of the staff who will help us with hygiene promotion in the camps. Some of the trainees are Save the Children staff and some are teachers who wanted to help. One of the staff members who I spoke to told me that after a long day at work she will “sleep on the street with my child, who is ill with diarrhoea”. I was amazed by her commitment – working all day to help others when her and her family were also suffering.

Staff will go out tomorrow to the sites that we assessed yesterday and they will be finding volunteers in the camps to help promote hygiene. We also briefed them on how to set up latrines, water points, tap stands and water bladders. When I lived here in 2003 I used to live near the Hotel Montana (not far from Save the Children’s).  The earthquake destroyed the hotel completely. Friends from when I lived here have sent me emails asking if other people we know are OK. I have been so busy and the lack of communications means that I just don’t know. Memories come flooding back from 2003 when I drove up vibrant streets — now they’re filled with rubble.

Day Five – 21 January
Today there were some strong aftershocks. I was in one of the badly affected areas where we are trying to help a local organisation that is providing water into the slum areas. We were in a meeting when the aftershocks hit. Because people have already been through a serious earthquake you could feel the panic — it was tangible. There was a young boy at the house we had the meting at who was 9 or 10 — he was visibly distressed. It turns out he had been found on the street by the organisation. His parents had been pulled from the rubble. He does not know where they are and so we are working with our family tracing program to try to reunite him with his parents.

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