International Action Update (7/15/2011)
Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) conditions in Port-au-Prince were not good even before the devastating January 2010 earthquake. Perversely, the poor often paid the most for drinking water. Against this backdrop, a number of international organizations and non-governmental organizations are working with the Haitian government to help establish a more effective and equitable water system. One of these non governmental organizations, International Action, has been involved with water related issues in Haiti since 2006. Below is an update as to their latest activities.
Our Focus: International Action’s focus has been on disinfecting water through provision of chlorinators. Each of the 110 chlorinators we have installed thus far is capable of providing clean water to 10,000 people. Using the easy-to-operate and economical Norweco LF-1000, we are helping thousands of Haitians have access to clean water. At the heart of International Action’s success is the innovative chlorinator employed. In many developing countries powdered chlorine is utilized which only disinfects the current water flow as opposed to the entire system’s water. International Action instead disinfects water for entire communities’ water flow via chlorine tablets. Using tablets to disinfect water ensures a simple process for citizens and employees to manage. Associate Director Youngmin Chang states “No other NGOs use ‘in-line’ chlorinators” in Haiti and our plastic devices use no electricity”. T he latter is particularly crucial in Haiti because electricity is unreliable and poor citizens can’t afford it. Additionally, International Action has made significant strides communicating and working with local water boards. Haiti’s response system is famously slow from government to private enterprise, so when International Action’s staff responds in a few days to water concerns—local leaders are assured of our resolve. On a side note, since 2009 we have also been distributing albendazole (a de-worming medication) to children around Port-au-Prince to boost their school attendance. While Interaction is based in Washington DC, ten Haitian staff members in Port au Prince implement and provided oversight for International Action operations.
Our History: As previously stated, International Action has been actively engaged in water matters in Haiti since 2006, and our founding is the result of an informative trip to Port-au-Prince. Co-founder Linday Mattison discovered the inherent shortcomings of the Haitian water infrastructure in Port au Prince in 2006. Mattison had experience working with chlorinators in Honduras and El Salvador and understood quickly that 140 reservoirs for 2.5 million people in Port-au-Prince were not sufficient. With no sewer systems in Haiti, water in lakes and ponds are often contaminated-- leading to waterborne diseases. He recalled thinking, “Why not install plastic chlorinators?” akin to the one’s he had previous experience with. After the earthquake, a few of the 140 reservoirs survived, so International Action helped to fill the void, installing 2,000 gallon tanks in their place. To form an appropriate response, International Action teamed up with other organizations including Action Against Hunger, Architecture for Humanity, UNDP, and of course, community groups. The collective response helped supply over 500,000 Haitians with clean water, 100,000 more people than before the earthquake. The vast majorities of NGOs refuse to work in Cite Soleil due to the volatility of the area. After visiting Haiti, our Associate Director reported, “When I was in Cite Soleil, I gave a ride to a group of young boys heading to playing soccer on a Saturday. Their teacher was holding a container of local water called Gatorade due to its tinted green color. That is the only available water to most students in Cite Soleil.” Through persuasion and commitment, International Action negotiated with local stakeholders (including gangs) in order to install chlorinators and train community groups on their maintenance. International Action has become accepted as partners in Cite Soleil and other difficult urban neighborhoods as well.
Our Impact in Mont Jolie: International Action’s Research Director Zach Bremer visited Mont Jolie in April, a site where International Action has been involved since October 2008. Community leader Billy Osbene told him, “Before International Action had set up a chlorinator, people did not trust the water in the community tank that CAMEP had provided – there was no (visible sanitation process) with the water at their tank.” Our two chlorinators provide a vital service to the town of 15,000 people because without them, community members would be trekking up and down the mountain carrying heavy containers of water. In addition to the health solution being provided by International Action, there is also an economic impact. The minimal charge on community members for using water allows the president and other leaders to reinvest the monetary windfall into other need areas such as medical care and education. Most importantly the community maintains the chlorinators by themselves.
Putting Clean Water in Schools: Our steadfast support in providing water to schools and orphanages in the past led to an agreement with the American Institute for Research. With funds from USAID, schools are being assembled by AIR, but they wanted to give the chlorination process to International Action. Our partnership with AIR will provide a number of schools with water tanks and chlorinators. This is part of an overall effort of providing water to schools. Thus far, we have done so for 110 schools and provided almost 23,000 students with clean water. Some of the schools we have reached are disconnected from the municipal water system, so they must be reached by water truck. While not as efficient as water tanks, without the delivery via truck—the schools would have no access to clean water.
Expanding Programs: The reality on the ground in Haiti is that countless cities and towns lack clean water alternatives. While one NGO cannot reach all of them (only an effective and accountable government can do that), International Action will continue to expand its program and provide an example that other organizations can replicate. In order to reach more people with clean water solutions, International Action needs more funds, vehicles, and partnerships with government, community, and NGO representatives in Haiti’s provinces. Unfortunately, Haiti will not overcome the cholera epidemic in the short term. For that reason, we have created a consortium of groups to distribute granular chlorine to mitigate the epidemic. In fact, our stock pile is large enough to disinfect water for all Haitians for 6-9 months. The network of churches, missions, and NGOs we are teaming up with will be instrumental for future initiatives and emergencies in Haiti.
Looking Ahead: On July 11, International Action’s Financial and Office Manager Jeffery Sejour returned from a trip to Haiti. He confirmed the extent of WASH related needs in Port au Prince and beyond. While there he visited Delmas (in Port au Prince) where International Action is located and is helping the community. He also visited a medical clinic in Carrefour, Haiti that received albendazole pills and granular chlorine from International Action. The chlorination program is a good tool in the fight against cholera. International Action has first-hand knowledge of conditions on the ground, and we are making a difference. In order to help as many Haitians as possible, which remains the overall goal for our organization; we need to spread the word that WASH is both an emergency and a development issues. We’re in it for the long haul. Let’s help remind people of the immediate crisis, but also about successes in ensuring access to clean water one community at a time. First, take a look at this video clip on the water crisis in Haiti. Then if you want to follow our work, you can visit our website or follow us on Twitter. We also have photos available of our work. Thank you.