Taking on the water crisis in Haiti

By Ryan Rowe, Rotary Peace Fellow from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, United States

Of the countries I have lived and worked in, Haiti is certainly among the most memorable, not just for its natural beauty, vibrant culture, and resilient people, but also for the challenges I experienced working there as a water sector consultant.

Reliable access to safe drinking water for the people of Haiti is among several stubborn development challenges, especially for those in rural areas where water sources may be scarcer, farther from home, and have a higher risk of being contaminated with human or animal waste due to inadequate protections. In the short-term, authorities in Haiti are not able to deliver the needed infrastructure investment and have turned to household water treatment and safe storage (HWTS) as a solution. As a Peace Fellow, Rotary supported me in obtaining a Master of Public Health. I have worked closely with the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, and other stakeholders to promote HWTS globally as an intervention for better health, including in Haiti.

Since 2017, I’ve sat on the Board of Directors for Clean Water for Haiti (CWH), a Haitian non-profit dedicated to solving the water challenge. Clean Water for Haiti works in small, rural, and poor Haitian communities to provide families with access to safe drinking water using bio-sand filters. These types of filters are a long-term, effective and easy-to-use solution for treating water inside the home and require no electricity or spare parts. The filters are manufactured locally and are highly durable. Local opinion leaders help encourage household adoption. Participating households receive training on properly using the filters, sanitation and hygiene practices, and follow-up visits are held to ensure correct, consistent, and continued use. By using this model, CWH keeps costs at a reasonable level while providing employment opportunities to local people. The approach has a high documented rate of sustainability and empowers families to take control over the quality of the water they drink in a country where they are at risk for water-borne diseases, including cholera. Since 2001, CWH has constructed and installed filters in about 35,000 Haitian households.

Rotary has been a key partner for Clean Water for Haiti, which is also a registered non-profit in Canada and the USA. Beginning in 2006, when CWH was still a young organization, individual clubs provided support for key needs such as a power generator and a delivery truck. More recently, CWH started collaborating with clubs in Haiti and the USA through global grants in order to reach more households. For example, in 2015, the Rotary Club of Oak Ridge Breakfast in Tennessee, USA and a coalition of other clubs, both within and outside of Haiti, partnered with CWH to install over 900 filters in Haitian households. Last year the same group was able to sponsor over 1700 filters. For 2019, the Rotary Club of Vancouver, Washington, USA is leading a project with clubs in Haiti, Washington and Oregon to help over 2000 families receive safer water, a project size which CWH expects to deliver to economies of scale.

If your club is interested in developing a water project, the Rotary Foundation’s Global Grant Guidelines for Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WaSH) projects is a great resource to help you get started. You can also plan more effective global grants using the Six Questions to Ask Before Doing a Global Grant Project, developed for District 5100 by Past District Governor Dick Elixman, and since revised by Stew Martin, Lead Global Grants Coach and a Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) practitioner.

If you are interested to learn more about Clean Water for Haiti, please visit their website or contact me for more information.


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