Promoting public health after Haiti's earthquake
Helen Hawkings, who manages the Oxfam’s public health promotion team in Haiti, looks back on her work over the past few days.
Today a colleague went to visit her old friend in Carrefour, a commune where we are working, and found her sitting on the flat roof of her house. At night she stays with her nephew but during the day she sits on the rubble left from her house. She says she can’t leave as people will take her things.
I feel sad as there is not really anything left to take. People have lost the small things that mean the most, old photos, personal documents etc. The street where she lives is a deserted ghost town where there used to always be people moving around.
As well as providing latrines and water, we also distribute hygiene kits; buckets, basins, soap, sanitary towels and underwear so that people can maintain at least a basic level of personal hygiene.
We are starting our distribution in one of the first camps we visited. Security at distributions takes a lot of organising so our strategy is to concentrate on distributing our kits to the smaller camps and communities where there are less people to manage who are less likely to receive aid from other organisations.
This morning we are having a meeting on the roof of the half of our building that survived the earthquake. Looking over at the other building it is amazing that more people did not die. I quietly thank whoever is up there looking out for me. Not being able to open my door may have saved my life. The wall above my office collapsed. My colleague in the office opposite mine was not so lucky.
Some time after 4am a sound stopped my sleep. Not the mosquitoes that somehow manage to get through my net to dine on me, nor the roar of another earthquake, it was torrential rain. Haiti is not ready for the rainy season, which is still several weeks away. It was raining hard. Large tent and plastic sheeting distributions have already taken place but many people are going to get very wet.
With the rain also come more risks from the bacteria in the rubbish and excreta which can be washed into the sources of water which people drink and cause diarrhoeal disease.
It’s been a couple of weeks since I last visited the golf course. This was the first camp that I visited that we immediately started work in. It has continued to grow and is now the biggest camp that we support with an estimated 45,000 people sleeping here.
My colleague Karine and her team have installed a T45 big water tank which holds 45,000 litres of water which is being distributed around the camp using the existing sprinkler system used to keep the golfing green fresh. Following this morning’s rain the golf course is far from green. I leave with my shoes heavy with clay mud. Once the rains really begin, this camp will become a mud bath.
Many people here are unfamiliar with latrine use. I am taking a rest for a couple of days but before I go I need to take photos that can be used for hygiene promotion materials explaining how to made best use of the latrines we have installed.
Today is one month since the earthquake struck Haiti. The president has made today a day of mourning across the country. This weekend there will be three days of fasting and praying to honour the thousands of people Haiti lost in the earthquake.
When I look back over the past month to the first time I visited the camps where we work, they had received no help. In most cases I was the first foreigner that visited them. I am not a technical person but as a two-person team we were doing everything necessary to get our water project running to start helping people.
Now Oxfam has a team of national and international staff in place. Haiti is receiving a huge amount of support from both the region and beyond. There is still an enormous amount of unmet need, particularly for shelter, sanitation and psychological support but in the past month we have helped nearly 100,000 people. I hope that in the next month we can help 100,000 more.