A guest post by Adrian Thomas, our head of media and external relations, who recently visited Haiti. There, he discovered how a project helping people recover from the 2010 earthquake also made a huge difference during Hurricane Sandy.

Throughout Port-au-Prince there are ‘canals’ for drainage. These are often no more than open sewers that run through the narrow streets and close-crowded houses. Sanitation is a challenge – these canals flood on a regular basis and people get raw sewage flowing into their homes.

During previous storms and hurricanes – weaker ones than Hurricane Sandy – up to 1.5 metres of ‘water’ from these open canals would gush through the streets of Delmas 19. But thanks to our work to improve the local canal system, it hardly flooded at all during Sandy.

This video, taken on a mobile phone by our communications officer Jethro Sereme, shows the flooding in Delmas 19 during heavy rains in August 2012.

Safer, cleaner and more hygienic

During my trip, I visited the Delmas 19 area of Port-au-Prince. After the 2010 earthquake, the British Red Cross began working there to make the canal safer, cleaner and more hygienic.

We provided technical supervision, training and materials to the community, enabling them to drastically improve the canal. With our support, they built a floor and walls in the original channel, then partially covered it with a concrete cap.

The newly created space over this contained canal will be used to build areas for children to play and for people to socialise. In the last phase of the project, the top of the canal will be covered with coloured paving made of recycled rubble from the earthquake. This path will double as an evacuation route in case of emergency.

In another neighbourhood we drove through, I saw what one of these canals would have looked like previously. It was full of rubbish, with three pigs rooting around in it.[easyrotator]erc_30_1353498678[/easyrotator]

A community effort

Our urban reconstruction and regeneration manager, Gabriel Constantine, has been co-ordinating the canal-building project in Delmas 19. He works with a committee made up of local residents to lead the project. They made sure that Gabriel’s plans took into account the local situation and that the canal meets residents’ needs.

An important part of the project is negotiating with landlords. Because a large number of people living in Delmas 19 rent their homes, it is vital to try and ensure they can carry on living there after the building work is finished. Otherwise there is a risk that – once the improved canal has made the area more desirable – rents will go up, and they will have to move out.

Gabriel and his team have taught local men the masonry and construction skills needed to build the canal. As well as helping their community, the men gained highly prized skills that may help them get a job in the future. It was really a community effort though – and everyone mucked in to help.

Hurricane Sandy caused severe flooding across much of Haiti, damaging homes, schools, public infrastructure. This has also increased the likelihood of cholera outbreaks in coming weeks. However – in Delmas 19 at least – the new British Red Cross canal has helped to prevent sewage from running in the streets.

Donate to the Hurricane Sandy Appeal

Find out more about the 2010 earthquake and our recovery work in Haiti

Top slideshow photos and bottom slideshow photos 1, 2, 3, 4, 6 & 7 © BRC/ Amelia Rule. Bottom slideshow photo 5 © BRC/ Adrian Thomas.