Water Poverty in Haiti and How a Mission Trip Changed One Woman’s Life
I traveled to Port Au Prince, in what I consider, the moment that changed my life. When I arrived in 2012, I was overcome with heartache in the wake of the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake.
The remnants of the earthquake reduced parts of Haiti to rubble. It was as if Haiti was in a downward spiral with little hope of recovery. Only two years after the destruction, there were still thousands left homeless. A short distance from the airport, I could see United Nations camps set up in attempts to maintain a secure and stable environment in the country. As I made my way through the crowd, men debated in French and Creole over who would be transportation for the arriving missions teams. My team and I gathered on a truck; the drive to the compound was long and the scene was somber. Concrete covered much of the scenery as the roads curved around the steep hills. From afar, I could see military guards protecting the wares of stores from theft.
As we made our way to the Compound in Mirebalais, Haiti, we were greeted with local Haitians who welcomed our efforts to care for the sick. On my first day, my immediate task was to help prioritize a makeshift medical clinic in Thomassique and Mirebalais. Thomassique and Mirebalais are two rural communities that have an overwhelming need for medicine for people who go regularly untreated.
Our teams consisted of physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, pharmacy technicians, and dentists – all ready to address the tremendous physical needs of people in this community. People traveled from everywhere for medical assistance. From women’s health issues, hypertension, Diabetes, broken bones to the most severe health complications, like intestinal worms more commonly in children.
So there I was in the heart of a ‘clinic in a tent’ triaging patient’s specific areas for care. My heart was heavy but my spirit was filled to see so many people who had waited for months for a pill that could cure what they that had been suffering from for what might have seemed like a lifetime. At times I would look into the eyes of many patients in the clinic and see people tinged with despair.
“How could an already stressed country be in such ruins,” was the question posed in my own thoughts. I saw people who had struggled with chaos, death, and destruction. Nevertheless, my conscience told me that there was more I could do. While on my trip to Haiti for medical mission’s outreach in 2012, I did not realize I would uncover a looming water crisis there. Because food insecurity and hunger are chronic illnesses in Haiti, which is also the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and the second most densely populated, increased population coupled with economic decline are linked to extreme poverty. Subsequently, Haiti does not produce enough food crops and livestock.
The country imports about 60% of its food. I also learned that 40% of Haiti’s population earns less than 6% of the country’s income; the poor rely on small wages and self-employment which is crucial to their survival. Poor communities are faced with deterioration of their living conditions which forces them into survival subsistence through framing. The increase in insecurity continues as doubts that Haitians would weather the crisis and return to a country rich in culture and pride persists.
As the days went on and I made friends with the Haitian people around me, I began to ask about the water conditions that were plaguing their country. Basically, ominous water shortages and sanitation were among the direst in the Western Hemisphere. Expenses created problems with water availability. I was no stranger to hearing that the people of Haiti often resort to gathering water from garbage-filled rivers to supply their households with water. Haiti was not just facing a medical crisis, but a water crisis in the pipeline.
Typhoid, Cholera and Chronic Water stress occurs when the demand for water exceeds the available amount during a certain period or when poor quality restricts its use. Water stress causes deterioration of fresh water resources in terms of quantity (e.g aquifer over exploitation and dry rivers) and quality (e.g eutrophication, organic matter pollution and, saline intrusion)
Diarrhea amass more than half of the waterborne deaths in Haiti each year. I was also told that many of the homes in Haiti were not connected to any metropolitan or national water pipe. Tanker trucks supply water primarily to those who can afford it. Tanks installed on roofs of some homes often provide some means of access to water, but even then I was told, it can only be used for bathing and washing. I was in disbelief that Haiti, some 800 miles off the coast of Florida, had people on the brink of a water disaster. I decided that my first water-well project would be in Haiti.
Armed with a heart of humanitarianism, I have been researching water scarcity in the developing world since 2006. More than 1.8 billion people around the world lack access to
safe drinking water and some 2.4 billion don’t have adequate sanitation. Approximately, 3,900 children die every day from waterborne diseases and poor health; so much so, that water scarcity has become one the most contentious problems of the 21s t century.
The water crisis is not about having too little water to satisfy our needs, it is a crisis of supply that our people and our environment are unable to handle. Agriculturally, water withdrawals for irrigation represent 66% of the total withdrawals and up to 90% in arid regions. As the per capita use increases due to changes in lifestyle and as population increases as well, the proportion of water for human use is increasing; all the more critical are the environmental perils a decreasing water supply is creating.
The availability for industrial and agricultural development has a profound impact on our ecosystems and their dependent species (worldwatercoucil.org, 2016). “This, coupled with spatial and temporal variations in water availability, means that the water to produce food for human consumption, industrial processes and all the other uses is being threatened (worldwatercouncil.org, 2016). So the more water becomes scarce, the more global contention is set to intensify. From California to the Middle East, water areas are drying up and as the population nears 9 billion, there are warnings of shrinking resources according to US intelligence; ‘the world is standing on a precipice.’ But it comes down to who owns the water and who can afford to drink it. This is definitely an “oh my gosh moment.” The true shocker exists in the already water stressed regions like Haiti. The statistics are staggering.
What’s more, the Haitian water market is flooded with imported water. The situation is ten times worse for those in rural areas, where the vast majority of Haitians live.
So I turned my gaze to this growing problem in hopes of helping to find ways to break the cycle of water poverty. When my mission trip ended, I vowed to return to Haiti to help with the water predicament. In 2015, after establishing Untappedhope.org, a non-profit that brings together local entrepreneurs, civil society, governments, and communities to establish innovative, collaborative solutions for sustainable water resources, I contacted my friends in Haiti to tell them that I intended to make good on my promise.
My organization is now raising money to build a water well in Ona-Ville, Haiti. Since my trip to Haiti in 2012, the people, their culture, their persistence and their pride have been near and dear to my heart. Even though I saw devastation, I also saw people emerge with stories of incredible acts of kindness, sacrifice, heroism, pride and survival; all arising from one of the world’s greatest natural disasters. My impassioned plea to help the people of Haiti is that I will be able to contribute my time and efforts to helping create access to clean water in rural communities.
In August 2016, my team and I will travel to OnaVille, Haiti, prepared to help the local community along with an onsite ministry, build a small community water well. The probability is that we will get clean water and help transform the lives of people by improving health and economic productivity to end the cycle of water poverty. Haiti is a community rich in culture and resilience and water filtration systems are vital to the progression of this great country. My goal is to be among the many great contributors to the revitalization of Haiti’s water infrastructure.
When events that are understood to be tragic happen, it’s reasonable to ask “why?” When these events affect whole communities, it is then incumbent upon us to ask, “How could this happen and how can we help?” I am on my way. I may not be able to change the world, but my efforts to bring clean water to vulnerable communities, just might change the world for somebody. A native of Baltimore, Maryland, “Swann” has devoted much of her life to addressing the issues surrounding access to resources for the under-served. Swann continues to be an active participant in the local community advocating for human rights interventions for those without a voice. But her greatest passion has been to raise awareness for people who die every day from consuming dirty water. To learn more about Swann, her team, and her endeavours in Haiti, visit: www.UNTAPPEDHOPE.org.