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Haiti: a year and a half's work in Cité Soleil

25-01-2006 News Release 06/4

The ICRC has been working for over a year and a half in Cité Soleil, the largest shantytown in Port-au-Prince, where daily life is ruled by poverty and violence.

" A long-term effort will be needed to make people a central concern again, " said Cédric Piralla, the ICRC's head of delegation. In 2005, nearly 700 injured residents, most of them victims of violence, had to be taken to hospitals. The ICRC is striving to improve living conditions in the shantytown by rehabilitating the water-supply system and carrying out sanitation work.

" On the positive side, we have managed to maintain a dialogue with everyone concerned despite the violence, " Piralla said. " The Red Cross is accepted and can carry out its work. " Modesty was nonetheless called for, he added, given the scale of humanitarian needs.

Since June 2004 the ICRC has been supporting a Haitian Red Cross first-aid post that carries the wounded to hospitals in tap-taps (local taxis) converted into ambulances. In all, 692 people benefited from this service in 2005.

The water and sanitation project in Cité Soleil was launched in December 2004. Thanks to the joint efforts of the ICRC and the local water board, drinking water was available for more than 250 days in 2005. Twelve of the 45 water-distribution points in the shantytown have now been repaired. When the entire network, including two new boreholes, is working again, water production will increase by 60 per cent.

With the ICRC's support, nine teams made up of 12 residents each have cleaned up various districts of the shantytown and cleared out wastewater channels. Refuse has also been collected in containers provided by the Port-au-Prince municipality. " Given the mou ntains of refuse that have piled up in Cité Soleil, this is only a tiny step forward, " said Pierre-Yves Rochat, the ICRC's water and sanitation engineer in Haiti. " When carried out daily, however, such efforts have a positive impact. " The ICRC has also refurbished six communal latrines, whose walls are covered with paintings illustrating the importance of hygiene.

Humanitarian work is hampered by the violence in Cité Soleil. " Nothing can be taken for granted here, " said Rochat. " A seemingly calm situation can rapidly degenerate into extreme violence. " ICRC delegates must maintain a constant dialogue with all those involved – the local residents, the leaders of the gangs in control of the shantytown and the staff of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) – to ensure that the ICRC and the Haitian Red Cross can continue to carry out their work.

In view of the persistent armed clashes, the ICRC increased its staff in Haiti following the events that led to the departure of President Aristide. It will maintain its presence in the country in 2006 since violence is still rife, as can be seen every day in Cité Soleil. In addition to the work it is doing in the field of water and sanitation, the ICRC is actively supporting the Haitian Red Cross, visiting people deprived of their freedom and spreading knowledge of humanitarian principles among the police, MINUSTAH staff, political leaders and the public at large.

 For further information, please contact:  

 Jean-Yves Clémenzo, ICRC Port-au-Prince, tel. +509 525 62 68  

 Annick Bouvier, ICRC Geneva, tel. +41 22 730 24 58 or +41 79 217 32 24