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Dire conditions in spontaneous Port-au-Prince camp

Haiti, January 17, 2010

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps  </span>
    People are starting to build their on temporary shelter out of wood they break off trees with their bare hands. They use their hands to dig holes for poles and then rocks to pound the poles into the ground. Tablecloths and bed sheets are used for the material for the shelter. Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps

Today I went to an open-air camp where probably 1,000 people were living along a gravel road. They were staying out in the open and had rescued very few possessions from the rubble of their homes — maybe a blanket, one woman had a mirror, one man had a Bible ... they had incredibly little.

I met a family with a 1-year-old child whose mom told me it'd been over a day since they had any food. Another family I talked to said their daughter was killed in the quake. Others had similar stories.

Conditions were dire, and my visit was very dismal at times, but there were lighter moments. Some kids had managed to find a plastic bag and tie a string to it and were running up and down the street pretending it was a kite.

I asked people how they were coping, and specifically about their water situation. Most were buying water from water trucks two or three kilometers away. They did the same before the earthquake, except that then the water trucks would come to their homes, and the price was less than half what it is now.

And the water from the trucks isn't safe for drinking. It wasn't before earthquake, either, but many families had some sort of purification systems at their now-destroyed homes. So they are now drinking water that should be used for bathing and doing laundry — which, from what we hear, is pretty much the situation throughout the city.

This is a challenge Mercy Corps will tackle in the coming days. Through a partnership with ITT, a global leader in the transport and treatment of water, we're getting five high-capacity water filtration devices, which all told can provide safe drinking water to 12,500 people.