News / Americas

Red Cross: Crucial to Provide Sanitation to Haiti Earthquake Victims

The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies says sanitation is being neglected by aid agencies involved in reconstructing earthquake-hit Haiti. The Red Cross is urging the international community to recognize sanitation as one of the priorities in this effort.

The International Red Cross Federation calls sanitation the "neglected twin." Whenever disaster strikes, it says aid agencies include water and sanitation among the priority needs.

While clean water is quickly provided to the victims, it notes sanitation tends to be neglected despite its crucial significance.

The Federation's Under Secretary General for Program Services, Matthias Schmale, calls this counter-productive. He says the Red Cross became fully aware of the importance of sanitation while reconstructing homes for survivors of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which killed one-quarter of a million people.

"We learned during the tsunami response where we got involved in recovery work of a similar, if not even greater proportions, that so-called beneficiaries will reject the shelter and housing that we provide if we do not look into proper sanitation," said Schmale. "So, someone has to do this work too. It is not just about providing, it is also about ensuring human dignity."

Schmale says it is crucial to provide improved sanitation services to the two-million people affected by the Haitian quake, 1.5 million of whom remain homeless. He warns there will be many problems in the future if sanitation is not integrated into reconstruction plans.

The Red Cross has built almost 2,700 latrines in camps across the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince. Each day it produces and distributes 2.4 million liters of clean water. This is enough for 280,000 people.

Despite considerable achievements, the Red Cross says at least half of the directly affected population has yet to see improvement in its sanitation and water situation.

Senior Red Cross Officer for Water, Sanitation and Emergency Health Will Carter says sanitation often can be a dirty job, but someone has to do it.

He says installing toilets is more challenging than providing clean water. It takes more time, more resources and more experts.

"We feel we have quite a few resources. We need to put these resources towards this. We have the disruption already. The earthquake has happened. So, we need to take this opportunity to go ahead and do the sanitation now not 10 years from now when everything has been rebuilt and you have to rip everything up again and you have to do the sanitation again. That would be a really bad thing to do," said Carter. "Sanitation is not only toilets, it is also waste disposal, it is also drainage, and it is also vector control."

The Red Cross Federation notes it has $1 billion at its disposal, which is enough money to do the right thing. But it says the Red Cross needs help to properly plan and install a sanitation system in Haiti.

Red Cross officials say humanitarian agencies do not have the capacity to tackle urban reconstruction issues by themselves. This must be done in conjunction with governments who have more means at their disposal.

They say the sanitation situation in Haiti was dire before the earthquake and action is needed now to build sanitation into the reconstruction plans for Haiti's future.

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