News from the ground in Haiti

From Nicole Klaesener-Metzner in Haiti:

Feb 8: We´re finished with our work at the hospital in Port-au-Prince. I will be in the States on Thursday. More later!

Jan 27: Tomorrow we meet in Petionville at the WASH Cluster meeting which is most important meeting for water and sanitation. I called Andy Bastable on his cell phone (Head of water and sanitation for OXFAM) directly, and he gave me the information. It should give us a lot of direction. We´re quite free to do what we think needs to be done, which is good for getting things done

Aside from the smell of diesel, the hum of generators and military vehicles, the whole place reminds me of Telluride on steroids–only there´s a lot less music and a lot more helicopters. Planes of every description come and go all day and night. I live in a tent with five other people and the Volunteer Ministries, who are responsible for everything, are very nice. We all work together to make our camp livable.

I live at the airport–and I mean literally. I can walk out of my tent and across a field and right onto the tarmac. You can probably see our yellow tents (Google Earth) on the south side of the runway, toward the eastern edge. There are tents and gear everywhere–over an area of probably 40 acres or more. The whole complex is secured by the UN.

We are organizing Haitian volunteers to help with the physical work. It´s extremely hot here, and yes, I am staying well hydrated! The other day Wycliff Jean walked right down the street (in a huge crowd), and yesterday someone in our group saw Dr. Sanjay Gupta from CNN, looking a bit bedraggled, so I´m told.

There is potable water at the hospital compound, but sanitation has a long ways to go. The solid waste we have been removing (which included me going out on the streets on PAP and, with a local, flagging a guy down with a truck and hiring him to move medical waste), is pretty scary stuff but we´re careful. It´s getting better.

We have volunteers delivering water to the patients often. It is sad to see these people in such a state but volunteers are doing a good job with what they can. The streets in the hospital compound are free from bodies but I have been shown where they were literally stacked up, not that many days ago. It´s horrifying

I am working at the University Hospital in PAP, we´re doing solid waste and sanitation for the hospital complex, which is serving 750-1500 people. It is secured by the US military and so it is safe. My team consists of me, Rodrigo Silva, and Nicole Klaesner, and we are meeting with the head of the hospital, as well as with Dr. Paul Auerbach, of International Medical Corps.

Jan 27, Rodrigo Silva: is working on Sanitation Relief Team at the Hopital de L’Universite D’Etat D’Haiti Hospital in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti. Planning Sanitation for an orphanage. Thanks for all the support and good vibes.

Jan 22: I am on my way to Haiti with a group working under the Red Cross doing water and sanitation. I’m leaving this morning. We don’t know how long we’ll be there but I will try to post anything I can if we have any kind of internet access (not very likely). I am glad to be able to go and I have good people with me. I’ll write when I can. Ciao!

Haiti teams

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We’re finally getting reports back from our intrepid team on the ground at Haiti.

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When the sanitation team of Andrew Larsen, Rodrigo Silva and Nicole Klaesener-Metzner arrived a few weeks ago, it was very chaotic.  Sanitation was a major problem which was threatening the lives of many individuals, including the rescue workers. There were almost no sewage systems even before the earthquake and the ones that existed were often compromised by the earthquake.

The team was asked to help with the general hospital in Port Au Prince.  Waste was everywhere, human feces mixed with body parts, syringes, medical waste of all kinds, spoiled food, packaging, etc. Piles of garbage surrounded the hospital. The lavoratories were completely filthy and unusable.

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The team immediately got to work and were able to hire some Haitians to help them clean up the garbage, find trash cans, and create a place where different types of garbage could go.  The hospital and rescue organizations did not want to use compost toilets – it was felt that it was too complex to safely store the waste at that time, and the need for immediate sanitation solutions was so great, that they focused on getting portapotties delivered fast. But they did educate people about composting human waste in the process. The clean up was done with almost no materials available.  They used crushed urbanite to line floors and ground areas around the hospital and keep it clean; they found materials here and there to create areas to contain the garbage.

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24236_10150089159060542_700145541_11183639_309766_nThey cleared out areas piled with garbage so that sanitary hospital tents could be erected to house and treat patients. Patients were dying or losing limbs from wound infections that could be prevented with basic sanitation, so this action saved lives.

It was quite a challenge to find a truck or any equipment to get things done and when they were waiting, they helped distribute  food and clean water to thousands of displaced people from Port Au Prince.  The situation is becoming less chaotic but when they first arrived, they helped wherever they could to prevent deaths – the need to distribute basic food, water and medical supplies and set up ways to keep them clean was vital.

After the hospital project, they did an inspection and found no garbage lying around anywhere in the vicinity. They then started working on creating latrines for one of the camps where Haitians were staying. It was again a challenge to find any building materials but they made do. They taught the Haitians they were working with how to build compost toilet systems that would be safe and sanitary, so that this could be replicated in other camps.

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They continue to install sanitation system and are now doing assessments and planning creation of full sanitation systems for several orphanages and other buildings in the area.  They are hoping that their plans of sustainable compost toilet systems will be approved by the major rescue organizations working on this project.  Our team has connected up and is working with with local NGOs, such as SOIL (oursoil.org), which specializes in compost toilet systems.

The intrepid water team led by Mark Illian from Nature Helping Nature has been harder to reach but they have continued to teach Haitians to filter their own water safely throughout the damaged cities and camps. This is vital work as locally available water supplies continue to be compromised by human waste and garbage on the streets of the city and in the camps.

Our newest arrival, Hunter Haeivilin, is a tropical food specialist and is assessing growing methods and the food supply in the area , and seeing where his expertise could best be utilized, as well as helping the sanitation and water teams where needed.

Andrew has returned to the states and is in the process of doing an analysis of what he learned at this disaster site, which may help future Permaculture Relief Corps first responders be even more prepared and effective at getting sustainable systems implemented. It is a design challenge to arrive in such a chaotic situation and make strategical design decisions.  There is no doubt the teams saved lives by choosing to arrive as first responders.  The need was huge, and they were in significant demand for their low tech expertise which was essential in that situation.  They are now moving into the second phase of disaster handling, where more long term planning can be done.

We are continuing to support the work of and coordinate with other groups, such as a permaculture team working in Limbe, a rural area, to grow food (http://noramise.org), and two builder’s groups planning sustainable, inexpensive, low tech and fast building techniques for the area.

Donations all go directly to the teams on the ground in Haiti for supplies and equipment – we are all volunteering our time on this project.  Please go to permacultureguild.org/donations to contribute (note this is our partner non-profit for this project).

Update on Haiti

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Another plane will be leaving from Miami in the next few days for Haiti. Needed are medical personnel, sanitation experts and water experts.

Our sanitation team is working near a main hospital, installing much needed sanitation systems in that area.  Last we heard, our water team was headed to Leogane, which is almost totally destroyed, to teach people to filter their own water with a number of low tech methods. One of these is the Sodis method, using a plastic bottle and sunlight to kill pathogens; another is a sand filter, also effective at ridding water of pathogens.  Solar ovens also kill pathogens. Combinations can be very effective.  The major risk right now is from human waste or toxins entering the water supply.

The sanitation team is building compost toilets which separate liquid and solid human waste.  The solid waste will decompose much faster when separated, and once all pathogens are eliminated, it can be used as fertilizer for fruit trees and similar food sources, which keeps the system as a closed loop and eliminates the waste stream.  Urine can be used immediately to fertilize plants – it is sterile, and when diluted with water, becomes an excellent source of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous.  By using this waste stream to grow food, we protect sensitive ecosystems and human systems from pollution and we can accelerate the growth of a future food supply.   These systems can be safely built with available materials – they are low tech systems and can be fairly rapidly replicated all over the cities and camps.

We have received some generous donations which enable us to fly a number of individuals to Haiti, so please pass this on to anyone who may be interested.