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