Local aid worker: Haitians take desperate measures to survive

Local aid worker: Haitians take desperate measures to survive

A local aid worker sent to help bring water filtration systems to earthquake-ravaged Haiti and to assess the situation said Monday many Haitians are taking desperate measures to survive.

“I saw people drinking old laundry water and anything they can get their hands on,” said Cassandra Nelson, an aid worker from Portland who has also been sent to help people after the Indonesian tsunami and war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan.

Nelson, along with other Mercy Corps aid workers stationed in Port-au-Prince, will be tasked to bring clean water to 25,000 people a day when filtration devices arrive.

She said getting clean water to the people is a top priority.

 “People have to go out every day and scavenge for water, and you see them carrying those buckets long distances,” she said by phone Monday.

“They’re also having to pay twice as much as they used to pay for water in a time when no one has any money.”

The despair and devastation in Haiti far surpassed what Nelson thought she’d actually see upon arriving in the country on Friday.

“You can drive and drive and the destruction goes on and on. It really is overwhelming the amount of destruction here,” she said.

She has been blogging about her experiences in Haiti, including entries about the million and a half people displaced and living in makeshift shelters on the side of the road.

“People are starting to build their temporary shelter out of wood they break off trees with their bare hands,” she wrote. “They use their hands to dig holes for poles and then rocks to pound the poles into the ground. Tablecloths and bed sheets are used for the material for the shelter.”

She wrote Monday that Mercy Corps was glad to see the United Nations was setting up camps made of tents for those left homeless because of the quake. She said the camps will provide a safe place for people to stay and will make it easier for relief agencies to get them aid.

Nelson said the goal is to first take care of the basics and then turn to the task of rebuilding the country.

“We believe going forward, the Haitian people have to own their destiny, and own the responsibility of rebuilding their nation. And we are here to support that,” she said.

Nelson also said Mercy Corps is bringing in a psychosocial expert to treat children and families traumatized by the event.