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Storm Tomas and cholera outbreak add urgency to Haiti's sanitation problems

Hundreds of thousands of Haitians lack access to clean water in Port-au-Prince, a situation expected to worsen after tropical storm Tomas makes landfall on Friday.

By Isabeau DoucetContributor / November 4, 2010

Earthquake survivors collect water in a provisional camp, as Tropical Storm Tomas arrives in Port-au-Prince, on Nov. 4.

Eduardo Munoz/Reuters


Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Even without a hurricane, sanitation in Haiti's capital is poor, local water sources are contaminated, and the 4 kilometer road to the shantytown of Cite Soleil is knee deep with mud and raw sewage.

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“It's always like this,” says Lionel Elve, a university student while driving his moped along the road. “The rains sweep the filthy streets from Petionville to Cite Soleil and clog the canals with trash flowing down to sea.”

Now, earthquake-devastated Port-au-Prince is bracing for tropical storm Tomas to hit Friday – potentially the first direct hurricane landing in a century. Tomas comes two weeks after cholera broke out, killing more than 440 people, infecting thousands of others, and looming over the millions of Haitians living in shantytowns like Cite Soleil and in tent cities across the capital.

Tomas was 295 miles southwest of Port-au-Prince as of 2 pm Thursday, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami, which is forecasting that the tropical storm will increase in intensity and possibly become a hurricane by the time it makes landfall.

Amid the potential for three simultaneous humanitarian catastrophes – an earthquake, a hurricane, and a cholera outbreak – the capital also faces severe sanitation problems, particularly around Cite Soleil, home to some 400,000 people and one of the capital's few sewage dumping points.

Apocalyptic landscape

Thousands of adults and children forage for recyclables at the dump known as Troutier, an apocalyptic landscape of open pits of raw sewage and piles of smoldering trash. Local residents, fed up with the never-ending line of sewage trucks, briefly blockaded the entrance to the dump on Oct. 27.

The blockade lasted mere hours, but it highlighted the dump's importance – as long as the blockade lasted, the sewage trucks could not empty their waste or collect more sewage from the tent cities around the capital.

Gardy Guerrier, one of the protest organizers, says Troutier has grown over the years. Land that once yielded bananas, melons, peas, and vegetables is now infested with mosquitoes and rats.