Page last updated at 22:30 GMT, Monday, 25 January 2010

Disease fears in quake-hit Haiti

By Christian Fraser
BBC News, Leogane

People stay in front of a destroyed church in Leogane, Haiti. Photo: 16 January 2010
Leogane has been virtually flattened by the earthquake

At the epicentre of the earthquake stands the skeletal remains of a cathedral.

In Leogane, west of Port-au-Prince, the destruction is total: 90% of the buildings are in ruins or will need to be rebuilt.

Mayor Alexis Santos is living in a tent beside his stately home.

In the past 12 days he has counted 4,209 bodies into three mass graves, but he knows there are plenty more that are missing, buried beneath the rubble.

"A lot of people have buried their own dead. I think more than a quarter of the population [139,000] are either dead or injured," the mayor says.

"Two days after the earthquake the water changed colour. People have been getting sick and drinking it.

"I am responsible for the town. But my hands are tied. I am overwhelmed by what is going on in Haiti," the mayor added.

Renewed purpose

There are growing concerns about the health of those in the camps. Thousands are building shelters in four locations around the destruction site. They say it is the only place they are guaranteed food aid.

A baby sleeps on temporary bedding at a destroyed Christian orphanage in Leogane. Photo: 23 January 2010
Local residents say they have seen precious little of the food aid

They say they have seen precious little of the food aid that is being dropped.

They are surviving on their own, albeit with renewed purpose.

The football stadium is beginning to resemble a small village, alive with the sound of construction.

There is electricity from generators. Some people have salvaged fridges and televisions. There are food shops, shops that charge mobile phones, there are even hairdressers. Plastic tents are being replaced by corrugated iron huts.

Cholera fears

But there is one thing they are not building - the latrines. There is no waste management, no showers. There are standpipes, but in the searing heat it is impossible to keep clean.

Until now the medics in Leogane have been treating the injured. They are still amputating limbs.

But the next priority must be improved sanitation in the camps because without it another disaster looms.

Pier Luigi Testa, emergency co-ordinator for Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders), said: "Maybe in the next few days or few weeks there could be some cases of diarrhoea, there could be outbreak of cholera and if one gets cholera everyone gets cholera."

Broadcasting on FM radio daily in Haitian Creole at 0910 local time (1410 GMT), for 20 minutes
Giving up-to-date information about where to get basic services and aid
Also available on satellite and online, and via social media

"I am very worried about an outbreak of disease," he said.

The charity has sanitation units crossing overland from the neighbouring Dominican Republic. They have been on the road for two days. Time is not on their side.

At another clinic in the grounds of the Nazarene Church, Scott Kaiser, a volunteer doctor with Heart to Heart international, said: "I have worked in many countries and I have never seen a full blown case of Tetanus myself. "

"I had a case of a woman who was lying on the grass. Her hands were tied. She was writhing. She was foaming at the mouth. We gave her comfort, some painkillers, some rehydration, but we didn't have the facilities to save her. It is distressing to see."

Tetanus is preventable with a simple injection but in Leogane there is still no cold storage for the vaccine.

The people in Leogane are resilient and trying to help themselves - but their faith is being tested by this slow delivery of aid.

Even the preacher in the church has run out of patience.

"The white men can't save us," he screams at his congregation. "Only God has the power".

The white men on the ground are working doggedly to make a difference.

But somewhere in the chain of command, there still appears to be a failure of communication.

And while bottled water and food are absolutely essential, the people of Leogane need so much more.

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