Women sweep the street in an impoverished area in Port-au-Prince that was devastated by the Jan. 12 earthquake. The women are being paid $3-$5 a day to do this kind of work by the aid group Oxfam.
In Haiti, relief organizations are still struggling to get food, water and other aid to the survivors of the devastating earthquake that struck earlier this month.
But some food and other necessities are available on the streets and in the markets of Port-au-Prince — if survivors can afford it. That has led some aid groups to shift gears a bit and pay people for clean-up work, so they can buy what they need to survive.
Lunide Francillon, a mother of six who lost everything in the earthquake, sweeps the street to make a little money that she can use to buy food and other necessities for herself and her family.
Lunide Francillon, a mother of six who lost everything in the earthquake, sweeps the street to make a little money that she can use to buy food and other necessities for herself and her family. David Schaper/NPR
On Rue Prolongee in Port-au-Prince, survivors have set up a shantytown using sheets, blankets, boards and whatever else they could find to create shelter. The aid organization Oxfam has begun hiring some of the people, giving them brooms and shovels to help clean up the area.
The work makes the camp more sanitary, while also providing a bit of income to survivors who would otherwise have nothing.
Lunide Francillon is one of several women sweeping up and shoveling trash and small pieces of debris into rusty wheelbarrows. She says she needs money badly. Francillon and her six children have been left with next to nothing. With no job, she has no way to clothe and feed her family.
The situation for many like Francillon is increasingly desperate — food aid comes inconsistently at best, and even when food is delivered, not everyone in camps like this one is able to get something to eat.
Improving Sanitation For Survivors
Latrines and showers being built near a survivors' camp in Port-au-Prince. The somewhat primitive facility will provide a desperately needed upgrade in sanitary conditions in this makeshift camp.
Latrines and showers being built near a survivors' camp in Port-au-Prince. The somewhat primitive facility will provide a desperately needed upgrade in sanitary conditions in this makeshift camp. David Schaper/NPR
Relief organizations are making some progress in improving the living conditions for hundreds of thousands of survivors of the devastating Haiti earthquake, but that progress is slow.
In the encampment on Rue Prolongee in Port-au-Prince, wooden beams are going up where the group Save the Children is constructing showers and latrines. They will provide much-needed sanitation to improve the health of the survivors living together in such cramped quarters.
Save the Children officials say they fear there could be "a second disaster in health" in Haiti that could especially affect children if more isn't done soon to improve living conditions in survivor camps like this one.
A little girl washes herself with soapy water from a small pan. The new showers and latrines will improve sanitation in the camp.
A little girl washes herself with soapy water from a small pan. The new showers and latrines will improve sanitation in the camp. David Schaper/NPR
Francillon says she hopes to be paid for her work, but adds she would do this sweeping, cleaning and picking up anyway, because it needs to be done. The encampment of improvised tents and shelters, which is now home to about 1,000 survivors in very tight quarters, is becoming filthy and smelly.
Alex Yiannopoulos, emergency food security coordinator for Oxfam, says while the clean-up work sounds menial, it is important.
"There's a lot of waste products, rubbish ... because people have nowhere to throw their rubbish; there's no one else taking that responsibility. It's basically to make sure the environment's clean to reduce disease risk."
Proper waste disposal can help control rats, mice and insects, which often spread disease, and is critical to ensuring the long-term health and safety of earthquake survivors.
Yiannopoulos adds that paying the survivors to do this work puts money into their hands, empowering them to buy food when they want, rather than waiting for inconsistent deliveries. He says there is food available at local outdoor markets; it's just that many people can't afford it, as food prices have soared since the quake.
"People are getting what we call minimum wage here, which is about $3 to $5 ... So that's enough to feed a family for the day and to have a bit of money on the side," he says.
That small daily wage is also enough to help kick-start a moribund local economy, Yiannopoulos says. Even before the earthquake, the unemployment rate in this neighborhood was around 80 percent.
"We're not only looking at the now and present," he says. "We're also looking at four years down the road and further. So these activities have to be linked into our longer-term effort. And we're trying to be creative about making sure there's an overlap in our immediate response and our more long-term programs."
Yiannopoulos says the organization wants to make sure the people have jobs, incomes and a more sustainable future.
"People have more priority than food. You have to look at water, you have to look at shelter, and you have to look at the basic hygiene conditions and ensuring that people have a life ... with dignity."
Oxfam already has a few hundred people earning cash for clean-up work, and hopes to eventually hire 5,000 Haitians. Other broom-and-shovel brigades are cleaning up trash, debris and rubble for other aid groups throughout the Haitian capital, and even more cash-for-work programs are ramping up this week.