Community

Kootenay residents continue to help in Haiti

Access to safe water remains a huge issue in Haiti. - submitted photo
Access to safe water remains a huge issue in Haiti.
— image credit: submitted photo

By David Putt

What’s happening in Haiti post earthquake? What became of money raised in the Kootenays to help Haitians?

In 2010 Rik Valentine and Deb Borsos of Argenta took the initiative to raise $50,000 from donors in the West Kootenay. The money was channeled through the Argenta Society of Friends (Quakers) who provided oversight for the funds raised.

In 2011 the Argenta Friends partnered with Pure Water for the World, a US development NGO, which built biosand water filters in Haiti for distribution to schools.

Half of Haitians do not have a clean water source, 80 per cent do not have sanitation facilities. In Port Au Prince, more than half of the 2.5 million population spend five to 10 per cent of their less than $2 per day income on purchases of expensive water from tanker trucks, by the bucket and often contaminated. If water cost us as much as it does poor Haitians the typical Nelson household water bill would be $4,500 per year.

The annual rainfall in Port Au Prince is almost as much as in Vancouver.

Valentine and I spent three months in early 2011 organizing a pilot rainwater collection project in schools in Cite Soleil, a Port au Prince shantytown that depends on trucked water. We trained a Haitian crew of three to build systems to collect rainwater, from rickety tin roofs to substantial concrete roofs, using Haitian materials and tanks.

Every school was a challenge but the crew did an excellent job completing installations at 18 schools by November 2011 for a cost of $24,000 US. In most schools the rainwater is filtered through small biosand filters supplied by Pure Water. Collection systems were also installed at a further 15 schools in a project funded by a large international NGO.

In April 2012 one of the Haitian crew and I made unannounced visits to 16 of the original 18 schools. We wondered whether some of the tanks might have been sold. On the used market the rain collection hardware might fetch as much as $600, more than a teacher’s annual salary, and in Haiti there are multiple crises in everyone’s lives — hunger, injury, sickness — that would tempt such sales.

We were pleased to see that all except one system was in use and even there the hardware was to be reinstalled on a revamped building. The school staffs were very appreciative of the rainwater source. The largest school saves almost $100 per month in water costs, enough for two teachers’ salaries. Five thousand six hundred students are now served with clean water in the 18 schools.

Unfortunately, Pure Water for the World’s accounting and reporting on the rainwater project was less than adequate. So the Argenta meeting decided to allot the remaining funds (about $25,000) to a development group called SOIL which has an excellent reputation developing sanitation projects in Haiti.

SOIL installs toilets in Cite Soleil and Cape Haitien, Haiti’s second largest city, both areas hard hit by the recent cholera epidemic that has killed 7,500 people. The funds were used this year to pay residents in Cape to maintain public latrines coupled in some cases with public showers.

Most people in these communities don’t have the luxury of a shower ­— they use buckets of expensive water to wash down. SOIL also used the funds to build two children’s latrines and a central composting facility. The latrine waste is trucked to the facility and high quality, pathogen-free compost is produced.

This is an important resource in a country where soil fertility has been badly depleted.

In many of Haiti’s urban slums, people, at least those a bit up off the bottom, have self organized to build neighbourhood latrines.

When the latrines are full residents pay a substantial fee to a latrine cleaner (bayakou) to come, in the night, to dig out the crap and wheelbarrow it to the nearest canal or vacant space.

SOIL is organizing bayakous to collect latrine waste for composting in what is planned to be a self funding project that will greatly improve sanitation levels.

Donations from the Kootenays for the latrine/composting and rainwater projects have made a tangible and lasting difference in Haiti.

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