Haiti looks for a way to make clean water sustainable

 

Haiti

Marc Antoine Castel spends five hours a day, and often weekends and holidays, at the office of the Cavaillon's water system, which he runs. He does it for love, although he hopes one day to do it for money, too.

"If someone is a professional water operator with no other activities, he will be broke," Castel, 37, said glumly of the current arrangement. He makes his living as a high school teacher and a lawyer.

Antoine Jean Narol, Castel's fellow water operator down the road in Simon, knows the problem. He teaches accounting at a local university and spends three hours a day at the local water authority, supervising workers, preparing reports and drawing no pay.

"If someone has to suffer, it has to be me," he said simply.

Castel and Narol are part of an experiment to make clean water a business in Haiti's villages.

Rural Haitians have always been pretty much on their own when it comes to water, getting it where they can and carrying it home in five-gallon buckets balanced on the head.

In many places, local water utilities make the task a bit easier, piping water from streams, springs and wells to public pumps and spigots. Sometimes they disinfect it and sometimes they don't. Often built by foreign charities, the systems are managed by "water committees" comprised of local volunteers.

This arrangement isn't unique to Haiti. It's common throughout the developing world, where safe water has been a focus of investment for decades.

Between 1990 and 2008, $50 billion was spent globally on rural water projects, according to one estimate. However, development experts now conclude that much of the investment was a waste.

There are many reasons.

Volunteers left to run the system after the outsiders who construct leave rarely have sufficient expertise. The cost of running a water system for 10 years is three times the cost of installing it. User fees, however, are rarely high enough or collected consistently enough to support ongoing operations.

"In almost every village there is some sort of water system, but 50 percent are not working," said Christophe Prevost, a water and sanitation specialist at the World Bank. "It only takes three to five years to get the service completely ruined."

Haiti now has a new water and sanitation agency, Dinepa, that is not only building large projects but also experimenting with ways to bring professionalism to small ones.

The water systems Castel and Narol operate are among 10 in the southern part of the country being built - or rebuilt - with a $10 million grant from the World Bank. The two men do not own the infrastructure, but their pay would derive, in part, from a percentage of the revenue.

"The idea is to create a private enterprise," said Michael Merisier, a Dinepa engineer helping oversee the project. "In the end, the system should be profitable. But it is not there yet."

Castel, Narol and their fellow "professional water operators" one day could be rich. At the moment, however, they are basically working for free and have the anxiety of people running Silicon Valley start-ups.

Today, 69 percent of Haiti's population gets drinking water from an "improved source," which means it is chlorinated and delivered through pipes or a capped well that is protected from contamination. In rural districts, only 51 percent of people have improved water - a rate that has gone up only one percentage point since 2000. Worldwide, 81 percent of rural residents have improved water.

Haiti has the raw materials to deliver water to its people. There's lots of rainfall, and steep terrain to drive it by gravity to places where people live. But cleanliness is another issue.

One in nine children in rural Haiti dies before age 5, and 17 percent of those deaths are related to unclean water. The problem came dramatically into view in October 2010 when cholera was unintentionally introduced by U.N. peacekeeping troops brought in from Nepal after the January earthquake.

That bacterial disease was one of the few health problems Haiti did not have. How the troops' infected feces ended up in the Artibonite River is a matter of debate. What is certain is that some of central Haiti's poorest people used the river as a water source.

There have been 535,000 cases of cholera since the outbreak, 7,100 fatal. In the second week in July, there were 2,104 new cases. Infection can be averted by assuring a supply of clean water or by preventing the water's contamination.

In Cavaillon, improving the water required rehabilitation and protection of nine miles of pipe that originates at a spring far up a hillside. The water flows downhill through 10 villages of subsistence farmers and tradesmen. The system had been built 25 years earlier but was deteriorated from poor maintenance and dozens of illegal connections.

"Everyone was a plumber," Castel, the new operator, noted dryly.

Today, 8,000 people are served by Cavaillon's water system. There are 265 household connections, with a capacity for 500. Such convenience is unheard of in rural Haiti.

In most cases, the water goes to an outside tap, not to sinks and bathrooms inside. Customers are charged $4 for 800 gallons a month. They pay extra for more. Flow is measured by a meter the size of a car battery next to the spigot.

Operators such as Castel and Narol get a week's instruction in how to manage a water system and meet several times a year to exchange ideas and get further training. They do not wield wrench and pipe themselves. They hire plumbers, meter readers and the people who sell water at a few cents a gallon at 15 public kiosks. They keep the books, market the product, collect the fees, decide when to cut someone off, and interact with the water committee, which has a purely advisory role.

Getting people to pay has been a problem.

"There's a Haitian proverb, 'Water belongs to God,' " said Merisier, the Dinepa engineer. "We say, 'Yes, it belongs to God. But you are paying us to bring it to you.' "

Stanley Jerome, in charge of educating the public, said optimistically: "People are getting the message. They are showing a willingness to pay. But it is taking a while to be fully motivated."

Only half of the system's household customers regularly pay their bills in full. The rest are in arrears by at least two months. Castel has disconnected only 10 since he took over in November 2010.

For residents, the convenience is hard to beat.

"In the past, I had to go all the way to the river to get water," said Cheslene Desobert, 22. "Now it's right here."

She was holding her 1-year-old son, Djovani, and filling a five-gallon plastic bucket at a tap outside her house near Castel's office. The tiny compound was fenced to keep the chickens in.

The six-member household signed up in November. Before that, someone had to make the half-hour round trip to get water three times a day.

Things are more tenuous in Narol's territory, Simon, a community of 3,500 down the road.

The water there comes from a well in a lush dell. Unlike in Cavaillon, gravity here is an enemy, not a friend. The water has to be pumped uphill to a holding tank from which it flows to consumers.

Last year, a storm blew a tree onto a power line. An improperly installed surge protector did not work, and the seven-month-old pump burned out. The water system was so new it did not have enough money saved to replace the pump.

For months people went back to collecting water the old way while Narol tried to come up with a solution. In the end, the World Bank proprietors agreed to replace the pump - one time.

When the system finally reopened there were a lot more people who wanted to get on it. Narol couldn't accommodate them. The outage caused severe cash-flow problems and he doesn't have money to buy meters for new customers at $150 apiece. He has 400 households on the waiting list but enough income to connect only a few each month.

Meanwhile, he's spending money to run a gas generator to drive the pump. Even though a surge protector has been installed and inspected, he hasn't worked up the courage to reconnect to the power grid.

One more blown pump and he is done for.

News
scienceExcitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
Sport
sport
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
News
Jermain Defoe got loads of custard
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst - Banking - London - £550 - £650

£550 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Business Analyst - Traded Credit Risk - Investmen...

Data Insight Manager - Marketing

£32000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based o...

Data Centre Engineer - Linux, Redhat, Solaris, SAN, Puppet

£55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A financial software vendor at the forefro...

.NET Developer

£600 per day: Harrington Starr: .NET Developer C#, WPF,BLL, MSMQ, SQL, GIT, SQ...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape