Two years ago, the Carrefour Feuilles (pronounced "kar-ah-fur fay") neighborhood was considered too dangerous for U.N. peacekeepers who were not protected by armored vehicles. And even today, a dozen or so Sri Lankan troops garrisoned here nervously stand watch behind heavy fortifications.
But Carrefour Fueilles has turned out to be perfect for an experimental solid waste processing and recycling plant set up by people who live in the neighborhood.
"We helped to create the conditions that made it possible for [U.N. peacekeepers] to come and protect us," said Patrick Massenat, the president of the group that opened the recycling plant in 2007.
The recycling initiative could also be key to ending Haiti's dangerous overreliance on charcoal for energy -- responsible for the loss of 98 percent of the nation's forests. The plant converts waste paper collected from the streets to hockey puck-sized "briquettes" that burn hotter than charcoal and cost half as much. It also employs 385 people, paying each about $4 per day, comparable to pay for government workers.
The United Nations has been helping neighborhood leaders organize and finance the recycling plant and other environmental initiatives in slums that were scenes of heavy gun battles between Brazilian and Jordanian troops and gangs that controlled much of the capital. Such jobs produce fuel for cooking, control flooding from denuded hillsides and grow desperately needed crops.
"Carrefour Feuilles is a poor neighborhood, populated neighborhood, with people in a precarious situation there, and before the project settled, it was known as a very violent neighborhood," said Eliana Nicolini, a Brazilian U.N. aid worker coordinating the recycling project. "So far, it is a small little setup."
What is most notable about these projects is that they do not fall under the jurisdiction of U.N. environmental experts or urban specialists. They are overseen by the community violence reduction arm of the 10,000-strong peacekeeping operation, MINUSTAH. The specialized unit, established in 2006, is most active in Port-au-Prince but has also mobilized efforts to build drainage canals and enhance fishing in rural areas.
Even though troops have largely quelled gang violence, political and social tensions in the poorest neighborhoods persist. But residents say putting people to work on environmental cleanup projects is making life better and having a noticeably calming affect.
MINUSTAH's community violence reduction, or CVR, section is involved in more than 30 projects nationwide and has a budget of $3.4 million. Projects are conceived by the Haitians themselves and launched after being vetted by not only engineers and agronomy experts but also sociologists and psychologists.
The Carrefour Feuilles initiative is arguably unique, holding the potential to transform the national economy and halt Haiti's most serious environmental problem, deforestation.
Here is how it works: Workers scour the neighborhood each morning to gather trash from bins they have set up and sometimes from households. Trucks haul refuse to a compound where recyclables are separated from the organic waste. Plastic, metal and glass are exported to recyclers in Taiwan, China, Canada and elsewhere, as there is no infrastructure in Haiti to process the materials. About 18 to 20 percent of the remaining refuse is hauled off to landfills.