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Haiti – Water is life

20-07-2006 Feature

In Cité Soleil, a shanty town in Port-au-Prince where UN forces clash with armed gangs, the ICRC has repaired the system of public water taps, bringing improved access to a substance essential for survival. Jacob Charles, a member of the organization's staff in Haiti, explains.


© ICRC/ Jacob Charles 
Lorémise François, 43 years old, lives in Cité-Soleil. 

Between 200,000 and 300,000 people are crowded into Cité Soleil. Lorémise François, 43, is raising two adolescent daughters there. It isn't easy. She's a single mother and has a shed at the back of a schoolyard that she uses as a kitchen. At night she and her daughters sleep in a classroom. " The principal lets us stay here, and in return I clean the schoolyard and classrooms, " she explains. " To earn money, I cook food and sell it to the pupils. "

Since 2004, Cité Soleil has been the scene of violent clashes between armed gangs and the United Nations stabilization mission. Hundreds of residents have been injured. But despite the danger, the grinding work of survival must go on.

 Access to water  

To ma ke life easier for people confronted with poverty and violence day-in day-out, the ICRC began in late 2004 to repair and upgrade the long-dilapidated water-distribution network. " The main thing was to restore reasonable access to drinking water, " explains Pierre-Yves Rochat, an ICRC engineer. " But we also wanted to reduce the risk of people being hit by a stray bullet while fetching it. " When the project began, women and children sometimes had to walk many kilometres to reach a source of clean water. By June 2006, however, over half of Cité Soleil's public water taps were working again.

Her face impassive, Ms François describes the long trips she used to make every day to bring home a few litres of water. " I used to walk a long way. Sometimes it took me an hour and a half to get there, far outside Cité Soleil. Once I left the Cité I was able to take a taxi-bus. But since they refuse to enter the Cité, I had to rent a wheelbarrow to bring all the buckets back home. Often the water spilled. And you had to run for your life when they started shooting. "

Today there's a tap a hundred metres from where Ms François lives. One of her children accompanies her there. " I fill the buckets and take them home one at a time while my daughter watches over the others. I always hurry as fast as I can because I hate the idea of leaving her out there alone, in case they start shooting. "


A huge burden was lifted from Lorémise François and her neighbours when the Red Cross restored the nearby water tap. " You can't imagine how relieved we were, " she says.

In 2005, the inhabitants of Cité Soleil began to enjoy substantially easier, safer and cheaper access to drinking water thanks to the system put back into operation by the ICRC. In the case of Lorémise Franço is, for example, this means being able to use scarce money on other essentials.

In addition, the ICRC is supplying fuel for one pumping station while repairing another. When the second – the Duvivier station – comes back on line, the ICRC's goal of boosting the water supply in Cité Soleil by 60% should be met.