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24960: News - Reuters -LWF/ACT provides water in rural Haiti (fwd)
From: Bruce Wharram <firstname.lastname@example.org>
ACT Dateline: LWF/ACT provides water in rural Haiti: A simple need with a
03 May 2005 07:54:00 GMT
Source: NGO latest
Kent Annan, Lutheran World Federation/ACT
<b>Action by Churches Together (ACT) - Switzerland</b><br> logo
Action by Churches Together (ACT) - Switzerland
Mapou, Haiti, May 2, 2005--Right now, Janita Lendi has two choices. She can
walk two hours to the nearest water source, stand in line, fill her
five-gallon bucket, and then walk back two hours carrying the bucket on her
head. The other option is to pay seven Haitian gourdes (about 18 U.S. cents)
to fill her bucket when water is available from a neighbor’s small
reservoir. But the water is not good for drinking, and seven gourdes for a
five-gallon bucket of water is not cheap, considering almost 60 percent of
Haitians live on less than one U.S. dollar a day and 75 percent on less than
two dollars. Janita and her family go through three or four buckets a day
(or about 20 gallons), which only a fraction of the average individual
American’s daily consumption of about 150 gallons.
Janita sits on a small, wooden stool in front of the crackers, candies,
bread and corn seeds that she sells by the side of the dirt road in front of
the elementary school in the village of Mapou. She’s wearing a vibrant,
multi-colored scarf around her head, a blue shirt, and colorful skirt. “The
water situation is hard - very hard - but you do what you have to do,” she
says with a smile that registers both resignation and defiance.
The Lutheran World Federation (LWF)-Haiti is more than halfway through a
project funded by members of Action by Churches Together (ACT) International
that will make Janita’s life considerably easier. Within a few months, she
will have access to excellent mountain spring water that is a ten-minute
walk from her house and costs only half a gourde (a little more than one
cent) for five gallons.
In May 2004, during flooding caused by heavy rains, she and her family lost
all their livestock and crops. She, her husband and children ran to higher
ground just as the water rushed down from the barren mountain slopes, long
ago denuded of their trees. Everything in their home was wiped out, except
for the foundation and the walls.
Janita says she has heard about the project, but her realistic nature won’t
let her get too excited yet. “The plan sounds great,” she says. “It would be
a very big help. We’re praying to God that the water will come.”
The water will soon arrive near the homes of Janita and 15,000 other
beneficiaries via 8.3 kilometers of polyurethane pipe as part of this
project that involves capping a spring further up the mountain. Janita’s
needs are plain and simple, but the solution is complex.
The project started in response to severe flooding that struck this area on
May 23 last year. More than 2,500 people died. About 1,700 homes were
destroyed, with another 1,700 damaged. More than 80 percent of the
agriculture was destroyed, as well as most livestock.
LWF/ACT was involved in the immediate emergency-relief efforts, distributing
food, water, clothes and medicines. Soon after the flooding, there was also
a significant road-repair project, which provided work for many people in
the area. But it was quickly evident that water was an immediate and
long-term need. A mediocre piping and reservoir system that reached some
people in the area was wiped out by the floods. People were forced to walk
long distances to get poor-quality water that in some cases resulted in
people and animals becoming ill and even some dying.
Residents of the area knew of an excellent spring in a remote place farther
in the mountains, so 22 days after the floods, LWF/ACT began a study to see
whether it could bring this supply of water to the Mapou area. Their
conclusion—the same one many other international organizations had come to
over the years—was that the terrain and technical challenges were too
difficult. It couldn’t be done.
Tommy Galbaud, a Haitian LWF/ACT engineer, was part of this early
“All the other engineers in the past who had studied this thought it was
impossible,” says Galbaud. “People in the area started having a sort of
defeated spirit about water. Water was such a big daily problem, but nobody
could find a way to improve things. Our first conclusion was the same: This
Today he stands at the source in the mountains, on top of the completed
concrete “spring box” and under the shade of lush trees whose fortunate
roots are anchored in this generous spring.
He smiles as he continues, “But before giving up, I wanted to do some final
checking. The main problem was crossing a 50-meter-deep ravine. I asked
people in the area if anyone might know a way to get across or around the
ravine. They introduced me to an older man named Familus Marcelin. He took
me up the mountain to an area covered by trees, then cut some brush away
with a machete to show where the pipe could run along the mountainside. But
I was still doubtful, because the path for the pipe would have to be about
the same height as the source—between 800 and 850 meters. I had my GPS
[global positioning system] with me and took it out to measure: 837 meters.
The LWF/ACT team then came up with an innovative, if somewhat daunting, plan
that is now more than halfway complete. The plan (see sidebar), while
involving eight different parts, illustrates the experience, expertise and
can-do attitude ACT members like LWF in Haiti apply to difficult problems
that often surface in disasters. And solutions to these problems would not
be as effective without the invaluable contributions of local residents with
their own intimate knowledge of an area and their willingness to take
ownership of the solution.
>From the small, rustic house where the LWF/ACT project team is living, you
can look up and see the waterfall and hear the rushing water. Last night the
rain fell hard for only the second time after several months of unyielding
dryness. So this morning there aren’t many women and children walking to the
source. They get a reprieve for a couple of days as they use water collected
off their tin roofs.
The waterfall is part of a beautiful natural scene, but in the way of a
painting—a kind of abstract or artistic beauty. Not that God’s natural
splendor is to be discounted, but there are more pressing needs around here.
And amid this project’s challenges is the prospect of something even more
beautiful and tangible than a natural waterfall: channeling that clean,
fresh water via polyurethane to thousands of families like Janita’s.
The eight-part plan for obtaining life-changing, clean water
Following flooding in Haiti a year ago, the Lutheran World Federation-Haiti,
ACT’s member there, responded in a variety of ways. After some of the
immediate and basic needs were provided for, LWF/ACT began to look for
solutions to one of the longer-term problems – the difficulty in finding
accessible, clean water. While the problem was identified easily, the
solution proved to be much more complex, but once completed, this project
will provide life-changing and life-sustaining water to thousands of people.
First, the source had to be capped. This involved building a
six-by-ten-meter concrete box around the spring to keep the water pure,
capture it and send it down the mountain in pipes. The source is unreachable
by vehicle. It’s a 30-minute hike up steep, difficult terrain.
Second, a road had to be repaired and parts of it built. This road has made
it possible to truck the needed materials up near the source. Materials are
carried on foot from there. Work on the road has been a source of jobs for
local residents in a country where more than 60 percent of the residents are
not formally employed. Also, this improved infrastructure will contribute to
the area’s long-term economic development.
Third, 8.3 kilometers of polyurethane pipe 16 centimeters in diameter near
the source and 10 centimeters in diameter farther down the mountain needed
to be laid. The pipe came in 82 pieces that weighed a total of 12,629
kilograms. The pipes (100 meters each) couldn’t make it all the way up the
mountain by truck, so the last stage of transportation involved cutting them
in half so they could be carried up the mountain by teams of fifteen men.
Standing down in the plain below the source, one sees a vein of exposed dirt
and rock running about halfway up along the length of the mountain to the
right of the spring. The pipes are buried under the vein of dirt and rock to
protect them. More than four kilometers, by far the most challenging half of
the pipe work, have already been laid. The next section will move down
flatter, safer ground rather than along a steep mountainside.
A local engineer, Roldophe Jean, from the nearby town of Thiotte (where LWF
has a large coffee project), is wearing a construction helmet and saying how
proud he is of the project. “None of my friends and nobody around here
thought it was possible,” he says, pointing up at the vein along the
mountainside. “But look!”
Fourth, the pipes need to be linked to 19 kiosks built throughout the area,
which is where residents will eventually go to fill up their buckets. The
kiosks will be managed by a small committee in each community.
Fifth, a reservoir will be rehabilitated and another will be built along the
distribution lines. From these reservoirs, lines will continue distribution
to Mapou and the surrounding communities.
Sixth, the long-term viability of this water source will be studied.
Violaine Bault, a young French woman who is a hydro-geologist doing an
internship with LWF, is looking at soil samples and area practices of
planting and livestock grazing. This is the first step in coming up with a
reforestation plan that will ensure long-term viability of this
27-square-kilometer water basin that ranges in elevation from 2,300 meters
to 900 meters at the spring and that is very steep in parts. Erosion must be
prevented because a water basin is basically a huge reservoir inside a
mountain. More trees and the right crops—as well as building
erosion-protecting rock walls—mean more soil will be retained. More soil
means that more rainwater is absorbed. This rainwater then eventually
filters down through the soil into the mountain reservoir. Such
reforestation measures are essential.
The eighth steps involves helping with community organization. A community
organizer, Gerald Salomon, is educating people about the health importance
of clean water and working full-time to organize and prepare communities to
manage the water source and distribution system when it is complete. The
LWF/ACT pipes will reach the communities of Machas, Grand Fond, Ka Conté,
Tiplace, Bois Tombé, Nan Roc, and Nan Didier. By charging half a gourde per
bucket, the project will generate annual revenue of 2 million gourdes, based
on annual consumption of 20 million gallons of water in all the benefiting
communities. This US$50,000 of revenue, overseen by a central committee,
makes the project sustainable by providing money for employment, repair, and
expansion of the distribution network to other communities.
By the time it’s finished, about 200 women and men will have worked on the
water system and about 240 people on the road project, most of them in
two-week shifts. This provides people with much-needed income and also
builds community support of the project.
The engineer in charge of the road project is Guerline Pierre, who is also
from the nearby town of Thiotte. “By involving people in the labor, we’re
building support in the community,” she says, “and helping them to see how
the project benefits them as a community and as individuals.” Each day, two
teams work on the road—the women in dresses, the men in dress slacks and
shirts as they collect rocks, swing picks, and dig dirt.
Didier Gallard, a French engineer working as an LWF/ACT consultant, says
about the complicated social factors, historical divisions, and political
conflicts that might threaten cooperation, “We’re trying to keep people
focused solely on the water. We hope and believe the need for water is
something everyone can agree on, despite whatever other divisions and
conflicts exist in the communities.”
This social aspect also fits within LWF’s mission in Haiti to advance
peaceful conflict resolution. By working with the community, providing a
much-needed resource, and helping to organize the community based on an
essential resource, the hope is to provide an opportunity for positive
social development. This social aspect will likely prove as challenging to
the project’s long-term success as all the technical difficulties combined.
The final part of the plan involves collaborating with other organizations.
LWF is the lead partner and organization on the ground. But to accomplish
something of this scope requires significant collaboration. Other
contributors include MINUSTAH, the U.N. mission in Haiti, which financed
construction of a water reservoir and terracing work to enable the pipes to
be laid; OCHA, the U.N. office for humanitarian affairs, which funded the
purchase of pipes; Catholic Relief Services and CONCERN, which financed
different feasibility studies; and OXFAM, which repaired a water tank and is
installing pipes and building distribution kiosks. The final project cost
for this stage will be about US$150,000 (or about $10 per person). LWF is
now seeking $370,000 in funding to extend a different, 17-kilometer branch
of piping to reach 15,000 more people.
In the midst of this eight-part complexity, a guiding ideal has been
simplicity, which is one of the French engineer Gallard’s specialties. He
says that the essential simplicity at the core of this project is what will
make it a long-term success. First, the water flows from the source down to
the villages through the pipes by the force of gravity, not a pump—so there
is much less that can go wrong. Second, they have utilized parts that are as
simple and fixable as possible. Third, during construction they have been
giving technical training to many local people who have been involved
throughout the whole process. “It’s not a djyab,” says Didier, invoking the
name of indigenous, mysterious spirits. “There are no secrets. People will
understand how this thing works and how to fix any problems it might have.”
[ Any views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not of