Reflections on Haiti, what comes next

January 12th marks the second anniversary of the catastrophic earthquake that shook Haiti, leaving widespread destruction in and around Port-au-Prince. Hundreds of thousands of people died and over a million were left homeless. One can still see the legacy of the earthquake with rubble and tent cities still lingering in the capital city.

Our plan for Haiti was shaken by the events of January 12th, 2010, but we remained committed to our our long-proven model of sustainable development. Initially that meant we stepped out of the way, while we supported as best we could the emergency relief effort; even joining leading non-profits on the ground in the immediate weeks following the disaster. As populations gyrated between urban, then rural, and then back to Port-au-Prince, we went about defining a best of class water and sanitation development plan with our partners in Haiti.

Most of our program work occurs in the rural Plateau Central, a good distance north of Port-au-Prince. Those projects are in full swing and have built on the solid experience of our certified local partner Haiti Outreach. Rural life in Haiti is what one might expect for the developing world. Lack of water, sewer, and electrical infrastructure defines life there, but slowly modernization is transforming these villages. Many folks we meet there do have mobile phones, and the availability of community water wells creates a base for progress.

The water and sanitation situation in Port-au-Prince is difficult. Most residents still lack sewer infrastructure (absent before the earthquake as well), and sort through a divided system for their water. Household water like that used for cooking is collected from Kiosks. Water from these kiosks used to be free, but November 1st, in part to motivate people to move out of the temporary tent cities, now costs four Haitian Gourde (US $0.10) per five gallon bucket. While chlorinated, few if any drink this water. Drinking water is most often bought from street vendors at the rate of one Haitian Gourde per 220ml. Drinking water from this system is roughly 40 times more expensive than tap water in New York City. And of course wages in Haiti are nowhere close to that of Manhattan and the surrounding boroughs.

Our plans going forward in Haiti are to continue our rural development work, and as Port-au-Prince transitions from relief to permanent development, explore how our lessons learned and models can be applied there. This means exploring opportunities around ongoing community organization, microfinance, and also mobile technology.

Just last week we moved all those efforts forward and look optimistically toward even more progress in 2012. This means more people with sustainable access to safe water, at increasingly affordable prices, improved health, community ownership, and time saved in water collection.

Thank you for your dedication and help in making all of this possible in Haiti!

Capital: Port-au-Prince
Population of 10.6 million
4.5 million lack access to safe water
7.6 million lack access to improved sanitation
58% of the total population lives on less than US$1.25 per day