Safe water is scarce for 1 billion people. This isn’t something you think about when you turn on the faucet, flush the toilet or fill up the Brita pitcher. But it is the reality, as are the problems that this scarcity causes. These include waterborne illnesses, such as typhoid, cholera, and chronic diarrhea. In countries like Haiti these waterborne illnesses are responsible for more than half of the recorded deaths per year. Contaminated water is also one of the leading causes of childhood illness and the very high infant death rate in Haiti, estimated at 57 out of every 100 births.
According to a study conducted by The Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, “only 55.2 percent of the population has access to an improved water source, while close to 70 percent does not have direct access to potable water.”
HRI addresses these issues with the implementation of WASH programs in both Haiti and Guatemala. WASH stands for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene. While each of these pillars has its own specific focus they work together to effectively bring about positive change for those in need. The water portion of WASH refers primarily to water treatment and filtration efforts, as well as addressing the problems posed by lack of access. These avenues are essential in places where direct access, either through wells or piped water systems, is not currently an option.
Water in Guatemala’s “Dry-Corridor”
In the communities where we work in Guatemala, water must be physically collected and transported for everything from cooking and cleaning to drinking and bathing. To accomplish this, women are required to walk long distances, often miles each way, to local springs which don’t have a sufficient supply for everyone in the best of cases. To help ease this burden HRI is currently working within the municipalities to provide trucks of water to some communities. Other efforts include the use of filtration systems and chlorination tablets to ensure the safety of the limited water available. While these methods certainly help, HRI is continually working to strategize and implement long-term, cost-effective solutions tailored to address local needs and conditions with our partners.
Growing Amidst the Chaos
HRI is working in Haiti not only to establish wells and basic water storage systems, but also to implement filtration devices that can be properly maintained by members of the community. HRI’s work in Haiti focuses within the orphanages where at risk children desperately need clean water in order to grow and flourish. However, the gravity of the situation grows exponentially in the face of disasters such as the earthquake of 2010 and Hurricane Matthew in 2016. These disasters cause damage to wells and other water systems, both of which are a major source of this already limited resource for those living on the island.
This is why HRI tackles this issue using both water treatment in the form of chlorination tablets as well as utilizing water filtration. These two easy to use options can help many members of the community gain access to clean water.
Learning at Every Turn
While HRI takes different approaches, whether working in communities in Guatemala or the orphanages of Haiti, what never changes is the constant opportunity for education. Educational programs for children that will instill lifelong habits, enabling them to help shape the changes in their own communities to build brighter, healthier futures. A future with clean water that can be used for drinking, hygiene and cleaning. Education for whole communities, allowing them to, not only build a future, but to take charge of their present and make a difference now.
A Glimpse of a Larger Picture
Just thinking about having to carry all the water you use in a single day makes simple routine tasks suddenly become a heavier burden to bear. And the consequences of unsafe water, or sheer lack of it, are massive and far-reaching. This is why water is only one branch of the WASH tree, a tree whose three branches must work together in order to grow a cleaner, healthier, safer tomorrow. Next week we will look at the sanitation branch of WASH and begin to see how these projects work together to build something greater than the sum of its parts.
Contributed by: Caitlin Barnett