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05 June 2018
Sustaining Access to Clean Water In Haiti
By Jordan Walker, Member, UNA-NCA Sustainable Development Committee

“Haiti is the poorest country in the West,” or “they have nothing” is so untrue and does not recognize the complexities of the Haitian people.

The United Nations has 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Goal 6 is to ensure the availability and sustainability of clean water and sanitization to all. Since the tragic earthquake in 2010 that destroyed most of Haiti’s underground pipes, Haiti’s most urgent need has been access to clean water and health resources to treat and prevent Cholera. In 2010, UN peacekeepers brought cholera to Haiti, and it spiked soon after Hurricanes Matthew and Irma. Since then, cholera has killed more than 10,000 Haitians, and and over 800,000 are still infected. Haiti on its own lacks the fundamental public health resources and funds to solve the issue on their own.

On May 23rd, 2018, Ms. Farah Faroul, a young Haitian-American and an active member of the UNA-NCA Sustainable Development Committee shed light on the clean water crisis in Haiti by leading a discussion among four panelists who all take on an very active roles as part of the movement toward Goal #6. The panelists all have impressive professional roots in non-profit and grassroots advocacy organizations that attempt to educate and, more importantly, implement resilient change in Haiti’s infrastructure.

Mr. Jeffrey Sejour, a Haitian-American who has been working in Haiti with International Action since 2009, emphasized the importance of trust. “If you promise something and don’t deliver, you will probably never be welcomed back (to that community).” Organizations must build trust through community involvement in Haiti. Both Mr. Sejour and Skyler Badenoch, the Chief Executive Officer of Hope for Haiti and another panelist, currently help run organizations that encourage Haitian communities to physically and verbally participate in the day-to-day growth of clean water projects. Mr. Sejour organization, International Action, encourages local communities to help drill for clean water by building wells and installing chlorinators, a process which takes up to eight months to build.

Another panelist, Dr. Maryse Pierre-Louis, also expressed the importance of encouraging community involvement instead of attempting to reinvent the wheel. Organizations that learn to work not only with successful projects in place but also work parallel with local government have a more meaningful impact. As a former member of The World Bank Group for 25 years, Dr. Pierre-Louis emphasized the importance of teaming up with other organizations and governments who also have the same intentions and can offer more insight into what is actually needed.

There are more than 10,000 international aid non-government organizations (NGOs) in Haiti, yet more than hundreds of thousands of people are still plagued with the disease, and millions of individuals do not have access to sanitization. Cholera, a water-borne disease, is an easily treatable disease with the right antibiotics. However, unreliable international aid and a lack of funding from countries, including the United States, have failed to follow-through. Many NGOs have failed to connect with both local governments and members of communities. NGOs instead often duplicate their efforts or leave early as a result of donor fatigue. Abandoned firewall is one of the many woeful signs of an unfinished project you might see left behind by organizations that take a quick-fix approach without the necessary follow-through. As Dr. Pierre-Louis carefully worded, the donor often becomes the banker and moves on.

Ms. Charissa Zehr, who formerly co-chaired the Haiti Advocacy Working Group in Washington, DC and who now works with the Mennonite Committee U.S. Office, advocates for Haitians to be at the forefront of disaster recovery, food sovereignty, and the cholera justice movement. Ms. Zehr noted the positive growth that has been made so far, like the Accessing Progress in Haiti Act passed in 2014, which required the U.S. Department of State and other government agencies to report on the status of assisted recovery and development in Haiti. The bill also allowed the public to look on websites like USAID and see where exactly the funds for aid are ending up and being implemented. The actual passing of the bill was supported and advocated for by Haitians who were the recipients of these funds and resources. On a more technical note, Mr. Badenoch’s organization, Hope for Haiti, just teamed up with Waves for Water to provide a portable and affordable water filtration system (called a Sawyer filter) that can screw on the top of a water bottle. He demonstrated how the filter works by filtering muddy water through the Sawyer filter, and he drank the filtered water out of his water bottle in front of the room.

Additionally, Congress recently approved the funding of ten million dollars in the FY18 omnibus bill to address Haiti’s cholera epidemic. However, of the $400 million the UN promised to allocate to Haiti in 2016, the  respective proportion that the United States would need to pay is 80 million dollars. There are also other major challenges, including the efficiency of the allocation of resources once they are given, scaling those resources to the population of Haiti, and assisting victims of Cholera and their families both medically and economically.

The panelists uniformly agreed on and emphasized that the most crucial step to making a difference is to become educated on the issue. As Mr. Badenoch vocalized, “statements like ‘Haiti is the poorest country in the West,’ or ‘they have nothing’ is so untrue and does not recognize the complexities of the Haitian people.” All of the panelists strongly encouraged the audience to learn, ask questions, and if they are able to, to commit to a service trip and really immerse themselves in the community of whatever country they are in. Only after really listening can anyone make an authentic judgment. The panelists were well received and met with members of the audience afterward for questions.

To conclude the event, Mr. Patrick Realiza, Chair of the UNA-NCA Sustainable Development Committee, thanked the panelists for their contributing remarks, and accentuated the importance of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). He also how reiterated how essential it is for interested individuals to get involved on the ground in service work, and to also use the resources accessible to them in Washington, DC. There are a plethora of connected organizations like Ms. Zehr’s that provide a legislative lens into issues that concern the SDGs. Mr. Realiza also recognized how the unfortunate stigma associated with Haiti as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere can continue to negatively provoke a sense of hopelessness, however he reminded the audience the importance of taking a lead role in their own communities and to ultimately encourage a dialogue on the SDGs and other related issues affecting the world.