By Rowen Jin
As a small town located off the National Highway in Haiti, Plaisance is a gathering center for many rural villages and districts. Life begins at seven each morning: school children cross the plaza in laughing cohorts and women begin setting up little fruit stands next to the main road. Greener than most other parts of Haiti and receiving ample rainfall throughout the year, Plaisance is unexpectedly plagued by many issues of water.
We conducted surveys on fifty-one different families throughout the town (Table 1). The average family in this town spends more than two hours every day obtaining clean water, with the burden often falling on the children or the women of the families. Twenty of the families only have access to unprotected springs or river water. For those who can afford motorcycle transportation of water, each bucket can cost up to 1.25 USD. Nearly all families drink water treated with bleach or Aquatabs (bleach tablets) and know the common causes of gastrointestinal infections. However, many still remain exposed in other ways from eating food directly made with contaminated water or from bathing and washing clothes in the river. This has taken a toll on community health. During our surveys, we found that nineteen of the families had at least one member sick with diarrhea or stomach ache within the last week. Testing of local sources revealed that all currently used sources have some form of the fecal coliform contamination.
As in other areas of Haiti, children remain the most exposed in this community. Many in the community referred to “teething” as a cause for diarrhea in infants, because diarrhea is so commonly seen in weaning infants and weaned toddlers. Beginning in January, World Water Relief began a WASH project in this community, bringing clean water and better sanitation to 1081 schoolchildren.
The Plaisance WASH project involves three separate schools that share a common well: St. Vincent de Paul, Pere Periare, and Notre Dame. Prior to the installation of the systems, the schoolchildren often had to bring drinking water from home or drink improperly treated water at school. Lunch at school was made with untreated water from the contaminated well. The bathrooms were seldom cleaned. The schools, already financially stretched, often had difficulties purchasing gasoline for the electricity needed to pump enough water for all needs. As a result of all of these difficulties, children were often sick with stomach aches, diarrhea, and other gastrointestinal diseases. Our WASH project set up hand washing stations at the bathrooms, brought clean water to the kitchens and drinking fountains, and created more sanitary bathroom situations for the children.
To generate means for gasoline and future self-sustainability of the project, we also set up a water selling schedule prior to our departure. Treated water is sold at less than half of the market price. This low price makes available clean water to many in the community. With this initiative, we were also able to create one job opportunity in the community and provide raises for the janitors at the schools.
As we prepared to leave, a teacher called us over to express her gratitude for the clean water and improved sanitation facilities. She talked about the stomach trouble she often saw in her kids and the general difficulties of finding water in this region. She was one of the last, but she was also one amongst many in the town who stopped us in the streets to say, “Mesi pou dlo.” Thank you for the water.
Table 1. Community survey of fifty-one families in Plaisance Haiti of current water conditions
|Number of families||Percentage|
|Drinking water from unprotected sources||20/51||39%|
|Unsafe water containers *||29/51||57%|
|Stomach ache or diarrhea within last week||19/51||37%|
|Untreated water used for drinking||1/51||2%|
|Untreated water used for cooking||36/51||71%|
|Did not know causes of gastrointestinal diseases||8/51||16%|
- Unsafe drinking container is defined in this survey as buckets lacking either covers, spigots, or both
Fig 1. The relationships we form with children at our projects remain the most memorable part of any project. This particular little boy loved to be swung and tossed around.