Haiti: A water crisis in the pipeless nation
In the industrialized world, access to clean and drinkable water is something many take for granted.
Haiti is in the midst of a reconstruction, which originated from the January 12, 2010 earthquake that took more than 250,000 lives and destroyed most of the physical infrastructures of Port-Au-Prince and surrounding cities.
Lack of clean and drinkable water is not a new problem that was just created when the 7.2 tremor destroyed most of the physical infrastructure in Port-au-Prince and surrounding cities. It has been a permanent problem, stealing hope and lives for more than a century while the rest of the world developed advanced plumbing and sewage systems. Yet very few sustainable solutions have been offered.
Water, the most basic of all necessities for life in this world is not only a luxurious item, but plainly put, it is made scarce, and expensive for the average Haitian.
A little over two decades ago, the metropolitan area of Port-au-Prince, the capital, still had an autonomous center for potable water, called CAMEP, which was created in the mid - 1960s to be in charge of water treatment and distribution throughout the city.
The way CAMEP worked on the distribution end was simple. People who could afford the monthly subscription fee would go to one of its offices and from there, their homes would be connected to one of CAMEP main pipes.
Some of the issues with CAMEP were that not every neighborhood had access to its pipes, not all the pipes were underground and protected, and not many homes had indoor plumbing that could be connected to the water system.
By the time the water reached an individual subscriber, not only could it not be trusted for purity, it was often a chaotic event for the subscriber to even get bucket of water (approximately 4 gallons) for their home.
Now, let’s fast forward to 2013. What is this water crisis that I refer to?
Well, CAMEP has been replaced by a national institution in the name of Direction National d’Eau Potable et d’Assainissement (DINEPA). Without getting bugged-down on how this institution works, it is worth mentioning that it has yet to address the water pipe issue, which is at the center of the water distribution and affordability crisis.
Most homes are not connected to any metropolitan or national water pipe. Some recently built houses have indoor plumbing, but often time there is no water running through those pipes.
Those who can afford to buy water from a truck, and store it in a water reservoir or tank often installed on the roof of their home. From there, a minority can connect their plumbing system to that tank or reservoir, and with the aid of a water pump could get the shower working.
Many in Haiti do not consider the water from those trucks to be of drinking quality. They only use that water for washing and bathing.
So, on top of buying water for daily purposes, the average Haitian also has to buy drinking water from companies, like Culligan, which have been around for a long time. But many Haitians in major metropolitan areas wind up buying their drinking water from street vendors who sell them in small bags.
Drinking water in Haiti, a country where many people simply do not have the financial means, is not only a flourishing business for a few, but it is a root cause for many illnesses and even death for too many souls.
The Haitian water market is flooded with imported water.
There is no logical reason as to why water access in Haiti has to be so rare, or have so much potential to destroy lives
This situation is ten times worse for those in rural areas, where the vast majority of Haitians live.
For example, in one of the remotest rural areas of Haiti, a place called Cornillon, many have no access to clear water, let alone clean or drinkable water. They often have to collect water from water bank, like the one you see in this picture below.
One would hope a situation like this would be the exception, but it is more common than anyone would desire. This same situation can be observed throughout the country.
There are even some areas where the only source of clean drinking water is the rain.In Fondwa, a communal section of Leogane, most of the peasants have no access to water wells,rivers or lakes. They are at the mercy of the weather and a few non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to provide them with the most precious necessity for life.
In November 2010, a cholera outbreak took the country by storm. The epidemic was traced to infected Nepalese soldiers serving the United Nations military mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH).
Some health experts suspect the rapid spread of the epidemic to other areas in the country can be linked to Haiti’s poor water distribution system. Here are a few interesting articles about the outbreak: BBC,NYTimes,Global Post.
Since then, some important work has been done to try to upgrade the water system in Haiti. DINEPA is doing its best to educate the population about the best practices of water usage. Recently,they inaugurated a new water treatment plant outside of Port-au-Prince, and it seems like they truly want to tackle the water challenge in the country.
Also, there are many NGOs doing great work in providing clean and drinkable water to some of Haiti’s most vulnerable people.
Despite all of this, the true solution to the water crisis in Haiti lies in the mode of transport of this valuable resource. Water is too important for it to be a luxury. Everyone must have access to clean, safe and potable water throughout the country.
The model of trucking water from treatment facilities to homes in the cities not only adds unnecessary cost but also increases the accessibility gap.
After the earthquake there was a rush of aid and sympathies to get Haiti and its people back on their feet. President Bill Clinton, famously championed the term Build Back Better to give hope to Haitians and friends of Haiti that the reconstruction era would give rise to a modern country.
At this point, one must ask this valid question, can Haiti build back better without a strong water network capable of dealing with not only people’s thirst, but to meet the irrigation challenge to agriculture, hydroelectricity, and at the same time the reforestation of the country’s environment?
Billions of dollars have already been spent to deal with the earthquake and the reconstruction, and yet Haitian leaders seem to be satisfied to let the country remain the only pipe-less nation in the region.
A simple model like this one below could go a long way to guarantee every household access to clean and safe water, and the work required to create such a network could create jobs that would reduce unemployment and inject money into the economy.
A national project to bring water to every home would be ambitious and bold, but it is a necessity that must be integrated in the reconstruction plan.
It is sad that three years after the earthquake and all the hoopla about Building Back Better, not one single pipe has been laid to transport water from a treatment center to a residential home anywhere in Haiti. This is an anomaly that must be fixed, and the solution should not wait for the next natural disaster or man-made chaos to become a reality.