Thursday, April 12, 2012

water in the time of cholera

NPR has just put up an article, including audio and video, about the difficulties in getting clean water (or any water, for that matter) here in Haiti.  I've written on this before (see below post), but it can't be discussed often enough.

Here is the link:

Here are some excerpts.  The first is the beginning, part of the description of the situation:

In the teeming city of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, millions of people have no reliable water supply.

Many of the underground pipes that did exist were ruptured by the 2010 earthquake. Many public water kiosks are dry.

So life for most people is a constant struggle for water. And now that cholera has invaded Haiti, safe drinking water has become Haiti's most urgent public health problem. Contaminated water is the main cause of cholera, which has sickened 530,000 Haitians since late 2010 and killed more than 7,000.

In Port-au-Prince, street vendors sell water in plastic baggies for a few pennies. Much of the city's water supply is trucked in by commercial vendors or a dwindling number of nongovernmental organizations that took on the task after the quake.

On one busy street corner, just outside one of the city's biggest slums, people with plastic buckets jostle to get to a length of garden hose that snakes out of a hole in the pavement — a source of free water.

The end of this part I find really exciting. I hope it works!

A hundred miles southwest there's an even bigger failure, in a seaside area called Petite Riviere des Nippes on Haiti's long, westward-pointing peninsula.

Nine years ago, the Haitian government built an elaborate water system there. It was designed to pump water from a pristine, protected stream to a hilltop reservoir and distribute it through pipes to the area. It was a big project, costing several hundred thousand dollars. A red government sign called it "a public treasure."

But it hasn't functioned in more than two years. The pump failed. A truck reportedly drove over a pipe and crushed it. Local authorities couldn't scrape up the money to get it repaired. And it's unclear when the national government plans to fix it.

"It's a tragedy," says Kenny Rae of OxfamAmerica, "particularly in the middle of a cholera outbreak, when people have to now use water they take from the river. We've tested it. It's very, very contaminated."

So Oxfam is trying a simple, low-tech solution to provide clean water. The NGO is installing what they call "chlorine boxes" — green metal poles with dispensers on top. With a quick tap, it squirts just the right amount of chlorine to disinfect a 5-gallon bucket of water.

Soon there will be 90 chlorine boxes scattered around the surrounding villages, which get their water from sometimes-contaminated streams. "The cost of chlorine is very low," Rae says. "A $100 tub will cover all dispensers for six months."

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