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'Before We Had Water We Were Suffering'

By David Snyder

His hair knotted in tight braids, earphones playing music from a tiny hand-held recorder, Registe Ligenson looks the part of a street corner musician or a student on a college campus. But he, along with more than 1.1 million other Haitians, is living today in a makeshift camp in Port-au-Prince. His is one story among the thousands that abound in Haiti's capital since the January 12 earthquake.

Registe at water spigot

CRS beneficiary Registe Ligensen uses a hand washing unit in the Bureau de Mines camp in Port-au-Prince. Photo by David Snyder for CRS

"My home was destroyed completely," Registe says. "At first we didn't have anywhere to go, but got information to come here."

"Here" is a tiny camp in the yard of what was once Haiti's Bureau of Mines. Today, hundreds of families crowd the small lot, seeking shelter from Haiti's rainy season amid a sea of plastic tarps and scraps of wood and metal salvaged from homes destroyed by the quake.

'We Were Suffering'

Even weeks after the quake, it is easy to see how hard life was here in the days when scared survivors fled to the site, afraid to return to even undamaged homes, fearing the many aftershocks that rocked the city. With temperatures climbing into the low 90s, water for drinking, washing and bathing was critical.

"Before we had water we were suffering," Registe says. "For two weeks after the earthquake we didn't have any. People just shared what they had with them from before the earthquake."

Those shortages, at least, are a thing of the past, thanks in large part to a water bladder installed in the camp by Catholic Relief Services. Daily, trucks come to fill the 2,600-gallon bladder. Water is dispensed through a spigot of five nozzles which several people can use at once.

"People can wash clothes now and take showers," Registe says. "Even others come and share the water we have."

Water access is part of larger CRS plans for camps like this one. Having addressed the immediate needs of food and shelter in the days and weeks after the crisis, CRS began shifting its efforts to long-term water and sanitation support.

Aside from the water trucked in to the Bureau of Mines camp each day, all of it purified and safe for drinking, CRS also provided latrines, showers and a hand-washing station in the camp. Designed to exacting specifications, the latrine and shower facilities are critical for reducing the risk of disease in the crowded camps, a risk Registe and the other camp residents recognized immediately as the facilities went up.

"It will be very useful to have this to avoid health issues," Registe says.

Learn more about CRS' response to the earthquake in Haiti.

David Snyder is a freelance photojournalist who has traveled to more than 30 countries for CRS.

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