World News

Sewage runs, garbage piles up at Haiti quake camps

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - A child squats to defecate yards away from a sidewalk where women press plantain into bite-sized pieces for frying and a naked toddler plays with a pile of rice on the filthy ground.

Nearby, a dead body has been dumped on the street, right in front of a sea of morose people sitting on grubby mattresses, and a garbage collector uses a shovel to scoop up soggy black mounds of putrid trash composed of plastic water bags, polystyrene plates, orange peel and tin cans. Stray dogs forage.

Sanitary conditions in tent cities like this one in Port-au-Prince’s once elegant Champs de Mars park around Haiti’s crumbled presidential palace are worsening by the day as hundreds of thousands of survivors of last week’s earthquake cram together to eat, sleep, wash and defecate.

“It’s miserable here. It’s dirty and it’s boring. There’s nothing to do but walk about,” said Judeline Pierre-Rose, 12, who misses her comfortable home with its couch and TV.

“People go to the toilet everywhere here and I’m scared of getting sick. My twin sisters vomited last night,” she said.

Rescue teams and food aid have poured into Haiti since the Jan. 12 magnitude 7.0 earthquake devastated the capital. They are burying the dead and attending to the injured, but they must also deal with an estimated one million people made homeless by the quake are having to fend for themselves.

Hundreds of thousands have used mattresses to mark out open-air living areas on blocked-off roads and grassy areas between dead zones of earthquake rubble in Port-au-Prince. they have also built crude tents by tying bed sheets to trees.

At the Champs de Mars, one family has propped the scavenged cabin of a smashed up pick-up truck on chunks of concrete debris to make a makeshift house with a wooden plank for a door. Nearby, an entrepreneur is renting out a generator for people to charge their cellphones.

Aid group Action Against Hunger has installed water distribution points at the camp where people crowd round with buckets, but emergency latrines have yet to be installed.

A large area around a small cluster of tatty and overflowing public toilets is full of clumps of human excrement and dirty tissues. A large public fountain where many strip off to wash has turned an opaque dark green covered with scum and garbage.

“It’s a catastrophe. It’s dangerous because health is a very precious thing and you can’t have all these people living near trash and dead bodies. It could spark an epidemic,” said Gelin Wesnel, 34, a local Haitian Scout in full uniform manning a first aid tent nearby.

As families settle in after nine days camped out -- preparing food on the dirty ground, cooking on charcoal fires and walking about in flip-flops through toxic dark grey puddles, nobody is doing anything about hygiene.

“It’s up to the government to resolve this kind of problem, they must take responsibility and tell us what to do,” said Wesnel. Then he added: “Maybe they are in the middle of working out a plan.”

Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Philip Barbara