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Brian's Beat: Haiti - Rain, nature’s sanitation system

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Ward 11 official website 

It is raining tonight. No, let me be specific, it is a full on tropical downpour and it has been going for a couple of hours. The thunderstorms here can be quite glorious, they last a long time and rattle around in the hills, and unlike Calgary, they are warm! They clear the air of the heavy humidity and just generally lighten everything up. They also clean the streets.

Port-Au-Prince is very hilly. The city is built up in the hills surrounding what must have been an old river delta. Housing is built up on amazingly steep hills, and built wall to wall, with little if any room in between. In the ravines and gullies are where shacks and tarp housing is built, basically slums. And below all that, in the flat, is the lower town. Completely built up, much of it was destroyed and little is built back.
The lower town is a tangle of streets and hawkers and every type of housing imaginable. There isn't any real municipal infrastructure to speak of throughout the Port-Au-Prince region, upper or lower. And that is where the storms have their negative impacts. The water flows off the hills, which are both denuded of trees and covered with houses, onto the roads. With no catch basins or storm sewers the water flowing downhill, down the streets can reach the doors of cars. Tonight the streets looked like fast flowing rivers, carrying with it gravel and rocks. Clearing the debris after storms to make the streets passable is a regular occurrence.

The water also carries with it all the garbage and pollution, the sewage and waste of hundreds of thousands of people living on the hills. All that flows downhill to the lower town, where it collects and pools in the homes and around the feet of the hundreds of thousands of people living here. In the hills, they take advantage of the flowing water to clean the streets and remove the garbage, sweeping it into the flow, to disappear out of sight.

The fetid mess settles into the slums of the lower town. The neighbourhoods that are the worst, the most dangerous, the ones that you don't go into unless you have an armoured vehicle and are wearing a bulletproof vest, those people all live here. They live in the morass of the effluent of their uphill neighbours. Children walk to school in the morning, making their way through the sewage. Street vendors set up their meager stalls in the mud and garbage, to sell what little they have. There is no respite here, no momentary lightening of the condition. It remains always, the slum, the trap, the wall. Is it any wonder sometimes hope is so hard to find?

And this is where I will be visiting on Thursday.


This content represents the personal views and opinions of the Ward Councillor and should not be taken as a statement of policy of The City of Calgary. The inclusion of any external content does not imply endorsement by The City of Calgary.

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