Water proves to be a lifeline as Haitians take control of their future

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Before the 2010 earthquake, Haiti’s access to safe water was already amongst the lowest in Latin America and the Caribbean. This situation was badly exacerbated by the January 12th earthquake. In the aftermath of the earthquake, a massive response sought to avoid major disease outbreaks by providing people with clean water, latrines and hygiene education. Unfortunately the situation worsened in October 2010 with the outbreak of cholera.

18 months after the earthquake, and with an overall decrease in the number of cholera cases, the focus has shifted to recovery. Efforts to transition water services back to the authorities, communities and private sector are well under way allowing Haitians to take control and manage their own water supply.

Jean Juslene works at the water point in La Piste camp, clutching a pot of money. The cash is the proceeds of a long mornings work as she oversees the sale of water to the local community. “I sit here at my station all morning,” she said. “Then when I am finished I write a report and give it the committee.”

The committee she refers to is responsible for overseeing the sale of the water and the management of the profits. The camp has been receiving free water to sell for the last few weeks but will soon start buying water with the money saved.

Jean has been living in the camp with her nine children for the last six months and is on first name terms with all her customers. “I feel like I help this community as I know all the people I am selling water to. It’s not a problem that water isn’t free anymore. Lots of people come here to buy it and if they don’t have enough I sell it them for less,” she said.

Yolande Thomas is manager of the water point in Impasse Vanneau in Delmas 19. “I serve maybe 30 or 40 people a day,” she said. The kiosk in this neighbourhood has been built by Red Cross teams, along with a large water tank which will hold over 10,000.

Ensuring neighbourhoods have access to water, and can take control of their communities supply, is a crucial part of the Red Cross recovery strategy.

Yolande sells the water for four gourdes a bucket, or three buckets for ten gourdes (approximately 0.25 USD) and the money she makes from selling the water is a vital lifeline.

“For the first few weeks the Red Cross gave the water for free but now we buy it from a private vendor. After I have bought the water I make about 20 Haitian dollars in profit,” she said.

Jean-Norbert Printemps looks on as Red Cross workers assemble a permanent 11,000 litre water tank on his land in Cazeau, a district of Port au Prince.

Printemps has been living in Cazeau since the earthquake destroyed his house. “After the earthquake there was no water in this area, so I contacted Red Cross so the people could have water,” he said.

The Red Cross responded to the request by installing a 10,000 litre soft bladder on Printemps’ property and devlivered water everyday, with Printemp acting as a water guardian to oversee its distribution.

“I used to be a water guardian when Red Cross delivered free water to the community. I liked that,” he said. “The population depended on me for safe water. I felt responsible for helping them and I want to continue helping.”

Now he has a permanent tank Printemp will continue to oversee his communities water needs but he will buy and sell the water he provides. During the transition period, the Red Cross will deliver water free of charge to the newly built kiosks for one week to allow the community water vendors to establish themselves and build up initial funds to sustain the business.