Friday, 30 April 2010

Power on, please!

Line Wolf Nielsen, currently in Haiti for SOS Children's Villages, takes umbrage with shortage.

Ever experienced the shortage of such essentials as water, electricity and fuel, all in the same few days? Add a touch of heightened risk of political instability and public strikes, stir for some time until you reach 32 degrees and high humidity, sprinkle with a bunch of hard-working colleagues all confined to tents and crowded living quarters on the one weekly day off and you have the ingredients to my recent weekend.

Considering the poverty situation here in Haiti our current shortage in the SOS Children's Village in Santo really should not be something to complain about...but we have to ensure that at least one car has enough fuel for hospital runs and other emergency situations. We have promises to keep with almost 90 food distribution points around town, where 12.000 children await a daily meal and SOS food deliveries. Then there is the UN cluster coordination meetings, the airport arrivals and departures and all the other necessary runs around town, all of which require a vehicle.

Needless to say we are now constantly on the lookout for gas stations stocking fuel, and that we have learned to pool trips and wait out other people's meetings etc.

Monday, when a colleague was able to get fuel, it was only after waiting in line at the pumps for hours because he didn't want to risk purchasing it from the street vendors who often mix it with water. We have had one bad experience with diluted fuel, which rendered one crucial generator unusable. And that was with fuel purchased in the Dominican Republic by a reputable vendor. Hrmpf!

Unfortunately a gas shortage in Haiti doesn't just mean fewer cars on the roads. It means that houses, hospitals, schools and businesses can't run their generators to keep their lights on or the equipment running. Since the earthquake, many hospitals in Port-au-Prince are working out of tents using generator-powered equipment. Here, a fuel shortage can have devastating consequences.

As most of the national electricity grid is dependent on fuel and gas for generating power, the shortage also mean less national grid electricity - which in turn increases the demand for fuel-fed generators...and blood pressure for those trying to locate this precious item.

In the SOS Children's Village it means no homework after sunset at 6.30 pm. It also means that office equipment is down, food goes bad in the fridges, and that the water system goes on strike most of the time, as the pumps can't function.

But all is not bleak: a cheerful gathering at the one pump with a moment of constant running supply showed me how even little girls can balance a seriously heavy load on their head and walk off graciously - without spilling a drop.

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