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Haiti: encouraging communal work in Gonaïves

02-04-2004 News Release 04/50

The people of Jubilée, one of the poorest areas of Gonaïves, are busy cleaning up the city’s main sewer in response to a call from the ICRC.


The people of Jubilée hard at work before the rains start, unblocking the sewer to prevent their part of the city being flooded with waste.©CICR/ref. HT-E-00022 
Every year, just before the rains start, the people of Gonaïves face the same problem. The 7 km open sewer that runs through the heart of the city is blocked by a thick layer of refuse. “This is a major health hazard.” explains ICRC water and sanitation engineer Erich Baumann. “Unless the sewer is unblocked quickly, there is a major risk it will overflow as soon as the rains start, flooding Jubilée with contaminated water. Cholera and other epidemics would be inevitable. And there would be a serious risk of polluting the water supply, because the water table is so high.”
Equipped with boots and shovels supplied by the ICRC, the residents of Jubilée have already cleaned out 3.5 km of sewer. Around 350 cubic metres of refuse have been carted away to outside the city on pousse-pousses, wagons propelled by five people. Many residents are able to use the decomposing refuse as fertilizer.
“Every evening, the ICRC makes a small payment to the people who have been working in the sewer. Just enough to feed a family for a day.” explains Luc Simonin, head of the ICRC office in Gonaïves. “The current problem in Gonaïves is not so much a food shortage as a cash shortage. People here have been in difficulties since the events of last Februar y, and many have had to sell all they own to buy food.”
Every week, new teams of 25 men and women take over, seizing the opportunity to serve their community and earn a little money. A member of the Gonaïves Branch of the Haitian National Red Cross Society coordinates the teams. “Seeing them cleaning up the sewer gives me hope for our city.” said one local resident.
Meanwhile, the ICRC is renovating Gonaïves public hospital. In addition to setting up two new operating theatres, the current project involves renovating the buildings that house the emergency and intensive care units. New latrines and a septic tank are also under construction. An ICRC surgical team is supporting the hospital’s Haitian and Cuban personnel. This medical/surgical project has two aims: to train Haitian and Cuban personnel in war surgery techniques and post-operative care, and to help the hospital become fully operational again.

 For further information, please contact:  

 Simon Pluess, ICRC Haiti, tel.: +509 257 71 43 – 256 78 24 – 525 62 68  

 Annick Bouvier, ICRC Geneva, tel.: +41 22 730 24 58