As hundreds of thousands of people displaced by last month’s earthquake put down stakes in the squalid tent camps of this wrecked city, the authorities are struggling to address the worsening problem of human waste.
Public health officials warn that waste accumulation is creating conditions for major disease outbreaks, including cholera, which could further stress the ravaged health system.
Some American and Haitian public health specialists here consider the diseases stemming from the buildup of human waste in the camps as possibly the most pressing health threat in the city.
Doctors are already seeing a spike in illnesses like typhoid and shigellosis, which arise from contaminated food or water.
“We’re witnessing the setup for the spread of severe diarrheal illnesses in a place where the health system has collapsed and without a functioning sewage system to begin with,” said Ian Greenwald, chief medical officer for a Duke University team of doctors working here this month.
The problem has become impossible to overlook in many districts of Port-au-Prince, with the stench of decomposing bodies replaced by that of excrement. Children in some camps that are still lacking latrines and portable toilets play in open areas scattered with the waste.
The light rains here this week caused some donated latrines in the camps to overflow, illustrating how the problem would grow more acute as the rainy season intensified in the months ahead.