UNICEF providing clean water, nutrition services for temporary settlements in Haiti
PORT-AU-PRINCE, 6 February 2010 – Before January 12, the Champ de Mars in downtown Port-au-Prince was the city’s main park and seat of political power; housing the National Palace, police and army headquarters, and multiple government ministry buildings. A series of well-groomed lawns and beautiful monuments to Haiti’s founding fathers, the Champ de Mars was the heart of the country’s capitol city.
Today, the Champ de Mars is home to roughly 15,000 people left homeless after the January 12 earthquake. No longer is it the bastion of Haiti’s political elite – the National Palace, police headquarters and ministry offices have been reduced to rubble. One can truly appreciate the scale of the disaster when walking through the sprawling maze of scrap metal shacks and tents made of bed sheets that now cover the fabled park. None of the 15,000 people living here know yet when they will leave this place or where they will go, but for the time being, they are getting by.
Life in the Champ de Mars settlement, as in most other settlements throughout the earthquake-affected areas, is difficult. People are living in overcrowded spaces, many without adequate shelter. There are too few latrines for too many people and privacy is virtually nonexistent. Electricity, indoor plumbing and multiple room dwellings are things of the past.
We met Peterson, a boy no more than 10, while he and his younger brother were collecting water for the family at a UNICEF bladder tank and tap stand in the camp. He took us for a tour of his new ‘home’ in Champ de Mars. We followed Peterson and his younger brothers into the centre of the settlement where we found his family living under sheets and a tarp that had been tied to a supporting pole from a children’s playground slide no longer in use. Peterson’s mother and his aunt were washing clothes in a basin and tending to about six children.
Peterson told us that he now spends his days collecting water and other supplies for his family and playing with the other children who live in the shelters close by. He said that life is more difficult now living here and that he misses his home which was destroyed in the earthquake. Peterson said he hopes that he can go home soon and looks forward to going back to school. We asked Peterson if all of his family members were safe, but he did not wish to answer the question.
There are thousands of Petersons living in the settlement at the Champ de Mars, each with his or her own story. It is a difficult life that is a far cry from the one these children knew before the earthquake.
UNICEF is working in the settlement at the Champ de Mars to help the children and families here through these most of trying of times.
All of the families living here have access to clean drinking water on a regular basis through UNICEF-provided bladder tanks and water stands. At any given time, there are groups of children and families gathered around the stands collecting buckets of safe water for cooking, cleaning and drinking. It is a welcome sight.
UNICEF is also providing nutritional services for mothers and infant children at the settlement. Working with partner organization Action Contre le Faim (ACF), UNICEF is counseling new mothers about the importance of breastfeeding, offering them psychosocial support and providing nutritional supplementation for infants who are malnourished. At least 50 mothers a day are accessing this service at the Champ de Mars settlement.
Peterson asked me as we were leaving how long he and his family would have to stay here for. I had to tell him that I honestly didn’t know, but that as long as he was here, UNICEF would be too.