Aid worker stories

STORIES FROM HAITI: Shir Shah Ayobi, Water & Sanitation Delegate, Norwegian Red Cross

Living conditions went from bad to worse for people living in Haiti’s slums when the earthquake struck in January 2010. Shir Shah Ayobi, RedR Member and Water & Sanitation Delegate with the Norwegian Red Cross in Haiti, talks about providing immediate assistance and the transition to longer term solutions. 

“When I first arrived in Haiti I was in Port-au-Prince. I saw the Internally Displaced People (IDPs) – those people living in the tents and on the streets where buildings had collapsed. I had seen it on the TV but when you see it with your own eyes it’s different. When you see the people, when you touch things, when you sit close, you see just how big this disaster was and how big the damage was. This type of damage can happen anywhere, but these people were already poor to begin with; they had nothing and when the earthquake happened it was even worse.  

“Before the earthquake many people were living in slums. Now people are living in tents, but they’re not really tents, it’s just tarpaulin – a piece of plastic – and they use one or two pieces of timber to make a shelter. They are there with children and elderly people and it’s not even a tent. They don’t have water in many places, or latrines. Sanitation is a big problem in this country, and was a big problem even before the earthquake happened.”

Providing emergency water, sanitation and hygiene

“The first water and sanitation work I undertook was an emergency response to the IDP camps. We were drilling bore holes and providing hand pumps, as well as building latrines and communal hand washing facilities. This was a big help because in some camps there three or four hundred families without even one latrine, without water facilities, or the water was more than one and half kilometres away. One of the big challenges was the land issue and the temporary camps. When you want build a latrine at one of the camps someone might say you can’t because they own the land. But overall it has been very positive and solutions have been found. 

“The best thing we’ve done is the community health programme. We are delivering all the key messages about hygiene promotion to the communities in the camps where the hygiene situation is not very good. The level of education in Haiti is very low, and of course the hygiene awareness also is very low. Only 10-15% of the population had latrines before the earthquake so people are not used to them and don’t know how to use them. But I have seen improvement: people collect the garbage; they use the latrines properly and clean the latrines. The hygiene promotion programme is particularly important in response to the cholera outbreak.”

Moving towards the future

“We’ve been working with Haitian Red Cross volunteers to provide water and sanitation, and build 700 transitional shelters. The transitional shelters are made of wooden timbers and are designed as a temporary house which lasts three to five years, or until people get their permanent houses. It’s a transition between the tents and the permanent houses.

“We’re planning to stay 3-5 years and hygiene promotion is the main programme that will continue. We will also be doing Disaster Risk Reduction and Preparedness. We’ll be working with Haitian Red Cross volunteers and members of the communities, so that they are trained and prepared for any future disaster or disease outbreak.”

Shir Shah Ayobi has been working as a Water & Sanitation Delegate with Norwegian Red Cross in Haiti since the 12th June 2010. He is also a RedR Member.


Read STORIES FROM HAITI: Elaine Burroughs, Logistics intern, Merlin

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Photo credits: Paul Jawor

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