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Haiti earthquake: Proper sanitation proving vital to health and safety

2010-01-29

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, 30 January 2010 – UNICEF is leading efforts in Haiti to provide proper sanitation for children and families who have been affected by the January 12 earthquake. Adequate sanitation is particularly important for the thousands of homeless Haitians now living in crowded temporary shelters.

Earlier this week, I followed UNICEF WASH specialist Silvia Gaya on a visit to a temporary settlement in the Carrefour area of Port-au-Prince. UNICEF had recently constructed dry-pit latrines there.

The latrines consist of a dug-out pit covered with a cement slab and removable lid, and also include an external ventilation pipe. Each latrine is surrounded by a canvas or plastic covering, supported by a wooden frame.

Gaya explains that during a disaster like this where thousands of homeless people are living in outdoor shelters at close proximity to one another, the risk of contracting a variety of different illnesses skyrockets, with children under five being especially vulnerable. Proper sanitation and hygiene, says Gaya, are essential for controlling the spread of diseases like cholera and diarrhea. Given that diarrheal diseases are one of the leading causes of death in children under five worldwide, the importance of adequate sanitation in the aftermath of the earthquake cannot be understated.

But the necessity of latrine construction during disaster response extends beyond the obvious health benefits. In emergencies like this where a large number of people are left homeless, women and girls without access to proper sanitation facilities are at particularly high risk of violence and sexual assault when seeking out private locations to meet their needs. This threat is greatly reduced through the construction of gender-separated latrines.

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© UNICEF Canada 2010
UNICEF constructed latrines in settlement at Carrefour.

I later traveled with Gaya to another temporary settlement in Port-au-Prince at Village Gaston Magon that lacked adequate sanitation facilities. Some of the 4,000 people living there had dug a small pit in place of a proper latrine, but it would simply not suffice for that many people. “This is not good enough,” said Mary Bastier, a woman living at the camp, when referring to the sanitation situation there. People will get sick and the women and girls are afraid to use this. There is no privacy here, no dignity.”

Fortunately, UNICEF and its partners are working to ensure all temporary settlements in and around Port-au-Prince, including Village Gaston Magon, have access to proper sanitation to prevent the spread of disease and ensure the safety of women and girls.

For further information:

Stefanie Carmichael, Communications Specialist, (416) 482-6552 ext. 8866; Cell: (647) 500-4230, scarmichael@unicef.ca.
Tiffany Baggetta, Director, Communications and Brand, (416) 482-6552 ext. 8892; Cell: (647) 308-4806, tbaggetta@unicef.ca.