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At a glance: Haiti

UNICEF and partners provide safe water for Haitian children and families

Haiti's 'double disaster' poses water-and-sanitation challenges

© UN Photo/Paris
Haitians displaced by the earthquake queue up to receive water from a tanker truck in the Canapé Vert area of Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, 26 January 2010 – Two weeks after the earthquake that devastated Haiti, UNICEF continues to reach children with life-saving support, including urgently needed safe water.

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Here in the capital, UNICEF is now providing potable water for 235,000 people at hospitals and distribution points around the city. And water distribution is being scaled up significantly. The target is to reach half a million people with a consistent water supply within the next few days.

Safe water is critical to staving off a second wave of disaster caused by disease outbreaks, especially among children.

Children are vulnerable

As the lead UN agency for water, sanitation and hygiene (also known as WASH) in the earthquake zone, UNICEF is committed to ensuring these basic needs for children, both directly and through its partners on the ground.

© UNICEF/2010/de la Rosa
Tanker truck delivers water to a distribution point in Canapé Vert district, Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

This is a challenge in the context of Haiti's 'double disaster' – because the development constraints that the country already faced have worsened considerably in the aftermath of the 12 January quake.

"You have to keep in mind that prior to the earthquake, only 50 percent of the entire country had access to clean water in the first place," said UNICEF WASH Specialist Silvia Gaya. "Children in emergency situations like this one are more susceptible to illness and death from waterborne disease."

Working in concert with DINEPA, the state-run water authority, UNICEF has been able to establish 115 water-distribution points throughout Port-au-Prince and surrounding locales. Many of the sites have been set up at the improvised settlements that Haitians have created because they've either lost homes in the disaster or remain hesitant to return to their homes for fear of aftershocks.

Water trucks and bladders

In tandem with the government and other partners, UNICEF is also setting up collapsible tanks, known as water bladders, at sites around Port-au-Prince. Large capacity water trucks are brought in daily to pump clean, chlorinated water into 5,000- and 10,000-litre bladders.

© UNICEF/2010/de la Rosa
Children from Canapé Vert in Port-au-Prince gather at a distribution point to collect safe water.

In the Canapé Vert neighbourhood, for example, UNICEF and partners are meeting the safe-water needs of approximately 105,000 people.

And at a temporary settlement in the capital's main public park, Champs de Mars, a 10,000-litre water bladder has been set up in the shadow of a monument to national hero General Jean-Jacques Dessalines. The park, with its picturesque plazas and lush landscapes, has been transformed into a small city of tents and makeshift shelters housing 20,000 people. Sanitation facilities there remain less than adequate.

Alternate sources

About an hour's drive from Champs de Mars is the town of Carrefour, near the site of the earthquake's epicentre. At the Grace International Mission in Carrefour, the concern at the moment is less about sanitation than the provision of safe water.

© UNICEF/2010/de la Rosa
An improvised settlement houses some 10,000 displaced earthquake survivors at the Grace International Mission compound in Carrefour, Haiti.

The private, family-run mission has opened up its grounds to people who were displaced when entire communities in the area were reduced to rubble. While UNICEF has overseen the digging of 45 latrines at the compound, more than 10,000 people housed there are only being served by two small water cisterns. 

In addition, DINEPA dispatches one water truck to the mission daily – but it is not enough to meet the cooking, bathing and drinking water demands everyone in the encampment.

"We expect that the residents here are getting water from alternate sources outside of the compound, since what is present is completely inadequate," said Ms. Gaya of UNICEF. "We will be working to get water bladders here to meet the immediate needs of daily usage. Meanwhile, with the construction of these latrines, we can offer some semblance of dignity and sanitary conditions for families temporarily residing here."

Richard Alleyne contributed reporting to this story from Haiti.




24 January 2010: UNICEF correspondent Chris Niles reports on efforts to deliver safe water to displaced children and families in Haiti.
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