Water and sanitation in rural Haiti still just a trickle

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Alphonsine and her three children walk over 10 hours a week just to meet their basic need for drinking water. The journey is best done in the early hours of the morning before the heat becomes unbearable.

Rural water coverage in Haiti continues to be the lowest in the Western hemisphere, with only 55% of the population having access to an improved drinking water source compared to an average of 80% for rural areas in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to the latest available figures from WHO and UNICEF.

While these protracted water errands have become a daily routine for many rural Haitian women and children, they take a heavy toll on the community. Women waste precious time that could be used for household or economic activities, their kids arrive at school exhausted and, in some villages, instances of rape have been reported. Additionally, the water fetched from distant sources is not always potable, which due to cholera, can become a deadly proposition.

Access to clean water remains one of the toughest challenges in post-earthquake Haiti, but a steady trickle of successful initiatives is tackling this issue head on.

Until recently, Haiti suffered immensely from an almost non-existent institutional presence in rural areas.

This has resulted in unplanned and piecemeal water and sanitation projects which often crumbled in the months following the donors’ exit. Since the launch in 2009 of the National Directorate for Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation Services (DINEPA), water and sanitation responsibilities have been decentralized to the local level in order to increase access to such vital services.

A pilot project underway in southern Haiti provides a glimmer of hope to women like Alphonsine as it brings affordable and sustainable water and sanitation solutions directly to their doorstep.

Jointly launched by the World Bank and the IDB, this undertaking supports a novel water governance framework using local professional operators for managing and maintaining new or rehabilitated water systems.

Grants from this initiative have also spurred sanitation and hygiene campaigns to teach families how to stay healthy and gain access to affordable household latrines. Additionally, the program has built 17 latrines for 7, 500 students.

With the support of a community awareness team and a local water board, the professional water operator is responsible for collecting a monthly fee from all customers that have a direct household connection to the system. The price tag for such a service is US$3 a month. If households cannot afford a direct connection, water can be bought from a nearby kiosk at US$.01 for 5 liters.

To date, the rural water and sanitation program has been implemented in eight communities in southern Haiti. The program is providing clean drinking water to more than 33,000 Haitians in a sustainable and affordable way.

It has also trained 14 masons to meet the local demand for building household latrines. Before the end of next year, another 17,000 people will gain sustainable access to clean drinking water.

The program’s continued success depends on the ability of local water offices to provide ongoing support and training to professional water operators while fostering a culture of payment for water services. If proven successful overtime, the DINEPA aims to extend this water governance framework to the rest of the country’s rural areas in the years to come.

This seems to be the most sensible path to providing clean and affordable water for all in Haiti.

With contributions from Christophe Prevost and Jean-Martin Brault.


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