PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- There is a fallen nursing trade school to see on this tour of a Port-au-Prince shantytown. Its elected leader Calixte Claude, has invited humanitarian workers from Portland-based Mercy Corps to test water from cisterns cracked by the impact of last week's catastrophic earthquake.
When it struck at 4:53 p.m. local time on Jan. 12, the walls of College Ste. Andre folded inward onto some 90 young nursing students and teachers before the roof toppled downward, sealing the fate of all but a handful.
Residents of Cazeau Passe Ma Gloire clawed through the rubble with one sledgehammer, one pike and many hands. Over three days, the people of this desolate ghetto of trash, malarial pools of fetid water and seemingly Biblical-era mud and masonry huts, pulled nine of their own out alive.
The 7.0 earthquake snatched some of their best and brightest, says Monsieur Claude, as he is called by the 300 mostly-barefoot children here and another 520 adults. Fissures split the walls of some huts. More than a dozen are so damaged that residents have strung cloth to broken tree limbs pounded into rocky ground to fashion crude shelters. Claude needs international humanitarian aid groups like Mercy Corps to first help rebuild and then transform.
Mugur Dumitrache, a project manager and engineer, and Richard Jacquot, Mercy Corps' global emergency operations head, examine a half-dozen wells and pits with water that might, with basic filtration and chlorination, pass safety tests. Dumitrache, a 47-year-old Romanian who speaks fluent French and passable Creole, measures the turbidity of water in the community's main cistern after dropping a rigged plastic oil bottle deep into the hole and pulling up a few cups of water.
His test confirms the water isn't potable. Claude says the well has always been used for washing and was not damaged in the temblor. In the world of emergency humanitarian assistance, the largest well in a slum of 800 won't be reborn as a source of safe drinking water because it wasn't safe before the earthquake.
Another well, covered with a rusted iron lid, looks clear enough but it is contaminated, too, says Dumitrache. "The water is not turbid. It looks like what we drink but it's contaminated with bacteria and viruses."
So is the standing water the children tramp through to follow Claude and the Mercy Corps workers. Masses of flies hover over shallow gray pools. Broken bits of concrete and islands of waste, maybe left by the mangy yellow goat and a few skinny dogs, pass as stepping stones. A stench hits a few feet before the open entrance of a latrine at the Presbyterian church school; that smell, a narrow hole in the ground and a few torn book pages on the ground outside sketch a miserable picture.
"I want each child here to find the means to be educated, to have a career or work, without having to steal, without having nothing," Claude explains in French to Jacquot and Dumitrache. "We have many needs."
Water trumps all other needs. There is no government-provided water, sewer or sanitation in this cazeau. So when the wells provide unsafe drinking water, residents are forced to purchase tiny plastic bags of safe water about the size of a child's hand. The equivalent of $1 US buys 40 bags.
"If we can find better purified water, or we can buy it, we won't drink the water here," a man tells Jacquot. Hillocks of the plastic water bags are everywhere: underfoot, choking spiny plants and billowing in the dusty afternoon wind.
For a while, and maybe a long while, that won't change, Jacquot explains later. To a visitor from the Western Hemisphere's richest nation, these alleys of the hemisphere's poorest seem hopeless.
But the 60-year-old Ashland resident and a self-described humanitarian jack-of-all-trades, Jacquot is no green do-gooder witnessing his first crisis. He ran Mercy Corps' response to Hurricane Katrina. He knows this disaster was born long before last week.
"We are going to help this community," he explains as a driver rushes the workers through dusk to the safety of a secure United Nations compound. "We're not going to do everything because it was like that before. But in the emergency phase, we will provide water purification systems, like chlorine tablets, as well as jerry cans and other non-food-items that people may have lost in the earthquake, tools to clear their hut area and help rebuild."
A second phase of assistance will tackle that latrine; where there should be 1 per 20 people, there are only a small handful for everyone to share.