A community in Haiti works to protect water sources and improve sanitation

World Water Day is held annually on 22 March as a means of focusing attention on the importance of freshwater and advocating for the sustainable management of freshwater resources. This year’s theme is water cooperation.

Here, members of a small community in Haiti come together to make water safe for everyone.

By Michelle Marion

PETIT BOURG DU BORGNE, Haiti, 21 March 2013 – Celianne Jean and her 5-year-old daughter Wislaine used to join others in the community every day at the local water source. The villagers would position their buckets to collect water from the source – a leaf someone had placed carefully to catch and funnel unprotected water trickling from down the mountain.

“We had many problems with the water,” says Ms. Jean. “Cholera was hitting the area, and we were drinking any type of water without treating it. People were getting sick.”

Water-stressed country

Haiti is considered a water-stressed country. Only 64.5 per cent of its people have access to safe drinking water.

In Ms. Jean’s village of Petit Bourg du Borgne, nestled in Haiti’s mountainous Northern Department, most people depend on such sources as streams, rivers and underground springs for all of their daily water needs.

These sources are exposed to many harmful pollutants and bacteria, as people pass through it on foot and by vehicle and use it for bathing and washing clothes and for animals, along with myriad other uses.

“Fecal matter in the water is one of the principal causes of contamination of water sources in Haiti,” explains Jean Marie Joinvil, programme manager for Concert-Action.

Safe water systems

Concert-Action is a local organization that, together with UNICEF, is implementing safe water systems in Petit Bourg du Borgne. The two major components of the initiative are: community awareness on water hygiene and sanitation, and development of water systems.

They go hand in hand, according to Mr. Joinvil: “To have access to good quality drinking water, the community must eliminate the need to defecate in open air and not drink water from unprotected water sources.”

For this reason, the initiative provides training to the community on how to build latrines. In addition, community mobilizers are trained to continue the awareness campaigns and to help change behaviours. Members of the community meet monthly, and each family contributes to a fund for future repairs of the water systems and construction of household latrines.

Community-led activity

“The creation of household latrines and maintenance of the water systems is a completely community-led activity,” says Mr. Joinvil.

“We walked around and spread awareness to everyone in the area,” says Ms. Jean. “I participated in the construction of many latrines. We banded together, and, with our own energy, we constructed 20 latrines in three months and set up systems for hand-washing so people don’t return to their homes with germs.”

Community joined in chain of labour

UNICEF is providing financial support to Concert-Action to identify where the water sources are in the area and to protect them from pollution. “We do it through water fountain systems that bring the water closer to the community so they don’t need to walk far to unsafe sources, like nearby rivers,” says UNICEF Haiti Water and Sanitation Specialist Rony Bayard.

So far, 25 water systems have been implemented in three rural communities in the Northern Department. Now that almost every family in her community has a household latrine that can help keep germs from being airborne, Ms. Jean is participating in building the new water system. Her contribution is to sift carefully through a pile of rocks, selecting the best ones for the construction of the water structure.

The entire process of building the structure entails several community members’ creating a chain, of which she is a link. Together, they build a structure for channeling the water source that will protect their lives.

Updated: 27 March 2013