Trainees of Knight International Journalism Fellow Investigate Stalled Sewage Plant in Haiti

Jan 212011

Trainees of Knight Fellow Kathie Klarreich investigated a stalled construction project for Haitian daily Le Nouvelliste. As part of her fellowship project, Klarreich trained these reporters to track how billions of inflowing aid money is being spent to ensure a transparent recovery process. The piece covers the Haitian government's decision to suspend construction on a sewage treatment plant, a necessity for displaced earthquake victims to live in sanitary conditions.

Two Million Dollar Project Stopped In Its Tracts

January 21, 2011 (Titayen, Haiti) A mesh gill surrounds 15 hectares of idle land in Titayen on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince. The construction material that two weeks ago was preparing the way for the new sewage treatment plant now lays dormant. By contrast, along the hillside across the national highway that borders the plant, life bustles in the tent inhabited by thousands of victims displaced from last year’s earthquake.

The site has been designated to treat excreta, which with the increase of potable toilets as a result of the January 12th trembler, has filled the country’s only other dumping ground in Truitier to near capacity.

But the project was stopped earlier this month because of a land dispute. Despite official approval by the government’s water and sanitation agency, DINEPA – in conjunction with the mayor’s office of Croix des Boquets, several families and one private company – have suddenly claimed ownership. One of the parties, sources tell Le Nouvelliste, is the Mevs family, considered to be one of the country’s most wealthy and powerful.

“The president of Haiti himself called to demand that the work stop,” confirmed a source close to the United Nations.

The plant was just a few weeks from completion before it came to a halt. More than half of the funds from the $2 million project - financed by the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation (AECI) - have already been invested. A tour by Le Nouvelliste confirmed that the work is in the final stages. Despite its obvious concern, AECI would not comment, saying only that the Spanish Ambassador to Haiti, Juan Trigo, was going to release a public statement soon.

The only space currently available for human excreta is nearby Truitier, which prior to the quake was used exclusively for solid discharge. After January 12, it became a general dumping ground for excreta and garbage.

“It is not appropriate for the discharge of excreta humans," said Ingrid Henrys, DINEPA’s sanitation director. Once the legal dispute has been resolved, she said, work would resume. Efforts to reach the Mayor of Croix-des-Boquets were unsuccessful.

“Truitier was supposed to be a temporary solution," said Mark Handerson, UNICEF’s water, sanitation and hygiene director. “We’re hoping that the trucks that are removing excreta from the camps are not dumping wildly in rivers and open spaces, as there is no (governmental) control at all.”

Thousands of mobile toilets have been set up along city streets and in the 1300-plus tent camps inhabited by the displaced. The units must be emptied on a regular basis, which was already a challenge before October’s cholera outbreak. The increased health risk is exacerbated by the fact that outside Titayen and Truitier, no other official dumping ground for human sewage exists anywhere in the country.

“We need this new site immediately,” said Handerson. “At least it would remove some of the anxiety of the population if they knew that the sewage was being handled appropriately.”

By Jean Phares Jerome and Dieudonne Joachim

Support for this article was provided by the International Center for Journalists