Photo courtesy of UNifeed
One of the poorest slums in one of the poorest cities on Earth, Port au Prince’s Cite Soliel, or Sun City, is so isolated from the rest of the city that it took aid workers two weeks to get to it after Haiti was struck by a devastating earthquake in 2010. The 400,000 inhabitants of the neighborhood, which is routinely ranked among the most dangerous in the Western Hemisphere, live in extreme poverty, largely without electricity, hospitals, or plumbing.
Today, the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) is working to address one of the biggest problems facing Cite Soliel; sanitation. The area is completely devoid of adequate waste treatment, leaving many Haitians unnecessarily vulnerable to numerous communicable and avoidable diseases.
The solution to this problem, MINUSTAH thinks, is an organic one. They, along with the Brazilian government and a Brazilian NGO called “Viva Rio” have installed a new system in Drouillard, a community within Cite Soliel, that links public toilets to a large tank, and uses biodigestors to break down the waste in the excrement to limit the risk of spreading disease.
“This is the first time that such a project was initiated in this area,” says Dumel Jean, a Haitian who works on the system as a cleaner. “This project belongs to us, and it is now up to us to preserve it, to keep it for our own personal advancement.”
A pleasant side effect of this initiative is the energy produced. Bacteria breaking down waste release methane gas, which can be harnessed and used a source of energy. MINUSTAH estimates that 100 families in the Drouillard area, nearly all members of which live on less than 1 U.S. dollar per day, get free energy directly from this project.
The tank in Drouillard is one of 80 set up by Viva Rio, the majority of which are based in Cite Soliel. These tanks are having a positive impact on the Haitians, and some hope to see their use expanded.
"I would not want this project to be stopped one day,” said Guerda Presandieu, whose family is one benefitting from the energy the tanks generate. “I would like it to continue to be useful for us."
It has also been a hit with the Brazilian military officials who say that it has led to a decrease in troublemaking as people work with their communities and have greater access to basic creature comforts. "By developing this kind of project we involve the whole community in the sense that everyone participates, and hence we also eliminate violence and bad actions," reports one commander.
It still is too early to tell what the long term economic benefits of Cite Soliel’s biodigestor tanks might be. But at present, they are keeping people cleaner, healthier, and safer – all in a neighborhood that was completely inaccessible to aid only a few short years ago.