Volume 43 Number 11
World Spotlight: Lending a Hand in Haiti Being a Conduit for Dealers
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As most of you already know, contaminated water has been identified as the most pervasive cause of health problems throughout developing countries. Water contamination has the potential to threaten the lives and welfare of numerous families especially infants up to 5 years old and the elderly. In many rural villages around the world, a child has only a 50 percent chance of reaching the age of 5. Those who do survive learn to live with stomach cramps and poor digestion. This causes their bodies to reject the nutritional value of the food they eat. In some cases, it may lead to serious developmental problems. Just think, only 20 percent of the world’s population has access to safe, potable drinking water.
At the charitable organization, Gift of Water Inc. (GWI), the mission is to provide clean drinking water and community development to children and families in developing countries. This is accomplished through use of a home-based water purifier manufactured by employees and volunteers of GWI in the United States and Haiti. The purifier is composed of two, five-gallon buckets placed one on top of the other. The top bucket is detachable for carrying to the water source, and the bottom bucket holds the clean drinking water. Through the use of a 5-micron, absolute, string-wound sediment filter, a granular activated carbon filter and liquid chlorine, the purifier greatly reduces bacteria and viruses and filters parasites. It also removes a large number of organic chemicals often found in urban areas. To the best of GWI’s knowledge, the purifier is the only one with a technology appropriate for Third World use that meets all U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) standards including trihalo-methanes (THMs) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) for most freshwater sources. For additional information on water quality standards, refer to the USEPA website at www.epa.gov/wqs database
Laying the groundwork
In November 1995, the organization began a nine-month study of water quality and needs assessment in Dumay, Haiti. (Dumay is located 12 miles southeast of the Port-au-Prince airport.) The initial distribution of 50 purifiers to Haitian homes took place in August 1996. The organization trained and certified six community technicians to monitor use of these purifiers in homes. The technicians visited the homes weekly. When this pilot phase ended after 15 months, the tests showed a 90 percent drop in water-related diseases in the children. They also showed that 80 percent of the homes consistently and effectively produced clean water.
Soon, the organization began to expand throughout the country. The project in Haiti now includes 20 other communities in seven different regions and 48 technicians. By the end of 2002, the program is expected to reach nearly 130,000 people in rural Haiti. This spring, the organization also started a pilot project in rural Jamaica, which is currently being monitored and research has begun in other communities throughout Haiti including the regions of Hinche, Caracole and the countryside near Jacmel.
Purifiers as tools
When these parts are shipped to other countries, GWI employs local people to assemble, distribute and monitor the purifiers. These factories abroad employ single mothers and others who are underemployed—again multiplying the benefits of the program.
To the doorsteps
Studies show that over the past 50 years, most developing country water projects implemented for the poor have failed dramatically. One reason includes well contamination. In Haiti, for example, GWI has only found one drinkable well. Other reasons are poor education and training, lack of resources, underestimation of certain tasks, lack of money within the communities to allow for self-sufficiency, “First-World” technology in a Third World setting and lack of follow-up. Because of these failures, standards are set very low.
GWI wanted to change this to make a lasting difference. The organization decided not to give these purifiers away, as most other programs do. Instead, it made a commitment to work with the communities and decided to charge a small fee so users could gain a sense of ownership. This money, in turn, is used to pay community technicians. Other similar projects claim success rates of 10 percent, 30 percent and 50 percent. GWI consistently exceeds 80 percent. This is based on independent studies that verify GWI’s own data.
Getting in touch
Local education and improved communication within the industry can only lead to professional development. Charities can really benefit from this. Increased exposure of various worldwide charities’ activities in water treatment can only help such organizations obtain much needed assistance and spread the benefits around the world.
About the author
A peek into Haiti
Location: Caribbean, western one-third of the island of Hispaniola, between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, west of the Dominican Republic
Map references: Central America and the Caribbean
Area: 16,650 square miles (slightly smaller than Maryland)
Climate: tropical; semi-arid where mountains in east cut off trade winds
Natural resources: bauxite, copper, calcium carbonate, gold, marble, hydropower
Environment—current issues: extensive deforestation (much of the remaining forested land is being cleared for agriculture and used as fuel); soil erosion; inadequate supplies of potable water
Population: 6,867,995 (July 2000 est.)
Ethnic groups: black 95 percent, mulatto plus white 5 percent
Languages: French (official), Creole (official)
Government type: elected
Exports-partners: U.S. 86 percent, EU 11 percent
Imports-partners: U.S. 60 percent, EU 12 percent