Haiti: ICRC action following the floods of September 2004
31-12-2004 Operational Update
In the wake of hurricane “Jeanne”, north-western Haiti, and in particular the town of Gonaives, suffered disastrous flooding during the night of 18 to 19 September 2004. As well as giving support to National Society volunteers in the task of collecting the dead, the ICRC set up a tracing network for persons reported missing.
Restoration of family links
The ICRC, which had already worked in Gonaives during the violent events of February 2004, was able to take prompt action in the stricken town thanks to its familiarity with the area and with the local authorities. The first priority for ICRC delegates and Haitian Red Cross (HRC) volunteers was to collect the bodies lying in the town’s different neighbourhoods. In its discussions with the authorities, the ICRC also spoke for its partners in the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in regard to matters relating to the security of relief operations.
The ICRC set up an emergency system for the restoration of family links, and gave HRC volunteers in Gonaives rapid training in how to meet needs in this respect. Meanwhile, disaster victims were able to reassure their families in other parts of Haiti or abroad about their safety by means of a satellite telephone provided by the Norwegian Red Cross. Nationwide radio stations broadcast lists of names of the missing, and the ICRC opened a special page in its Familylinks website featuring the names of over 3,270 missing persons and about 60 tracing requests.
Water and sanitation
In cooperation with CAMEP (Centrale autonome métropolitaine d'eau potable – the city water board), the ICRC is working on the water-supply system in the Cité Soleil area of Port-au-Prince. The project now under way aims first to ensure optimum production of safe water by upgrading existing wells, which will be fitted with new pumps and generators. Subsequently repairs will have to be carried out on the water distribution network, and public standpipes in particular. The ICRC team has begun rehabilitating community latrines and, working with local inhabitants, is cleaning drains and setting up a waste management system.
The HRC branch in Cité Soleil is contributing to these pr ogrammes by becoming involved in the management of community facilities and raising awareness among the population of the basic principles of community hygiene.
Protection of detainees
As part of its activities for persons deprived of their freedom in connection with the internal tension and violence, between September and December 2004 the ICRC repeated its visits to about ten permanent and temporary places of detention (prisons and police stations), to verify that the detainees’ treatment was consistent with international standards.
To improve conditions of detention and compensate for the prison authorities’ lack of material resources, the ICRC, working with the Prison Administration Directorate, has initiated projects aimed at giving detainees easier access to safe drinking water and upgrading latrines and hygiene conditions. Soap, laundry detergent and liquid bleach are distributed to the inmates. At the same time delegates work to raise the detainees’ awareness of the rules of hygiene and pursue a dialogue with the authorities aimed at encouraging maintenance of the prison infrastructure.
Promoting knowledge of the rules and principles of humanitarian law
Despite the relative calm that Haiti has enjoyed since the violent events of February 2004, the ICRC has maintained its dialogue with the authorities – in particular the police – and with representatives of MINUSTAH (United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti) contingents, different armed groups and political authorities. Meetings have been organized by the organization in several towns, including les Cayes, Cap-Haitien, Ouanaminthe and Fort-Liberté, with journalists, officials of the Haitian National Police, staff working in civilian prisons and demobilized servicemen.
The ICRC has also published informative and awareness-raising material in Creole, notably the handbook containing the basic rules of international humanitarian law and human rights. Radio spots urging respect for the red cross emblem are produced locally and broadcast nationwide.
Cooperation with the National Society
The ICRC’s cooperation activities are focusing on helping the HRC to broaden and improve its operational capacity. To this end, the ICRC is training HRC volunteers in various areas ranging from the restoration of family links to communication. It is also familiarizing HRC first-aiders with the " Safer Access " programme, which is designed to ensure their safety during operations conducted in conflict situations.