Skip to main content

"Providing safe and sustainable water in Haiti is complicated by cultural, geologic, ecologic, sociologic, and economic factors which are described subsequently. Those seeking to provide clean water to Haiti must consider and address these factors to successfully and sustainably provide water for Haitians.

"Near major rivers and in the large basin occupied by Port au Prince, sufficient alluvium has accumulated to form alluvial fans and alluvial aquifers; however, these are subject to contamination by shallow hand-dug wells.

"Ecological impacts in the form of deforestation, soil erosion, and a habitat destruction contribute to a hydrologic system which is less able to provide natural filtration for pathogens. An often underappreciated player is the microbiotic ecosystem which is an integral part of the macrobiotic ecosystem (trees and plants), which has also been impacted. Both the microbiotic (beneficial water-borne organisms) and macrobiotic provide a first line of defense for protecting groundwater in Haiti from contamination.

"Attitudes and perceptions of water in Haiti are affected by religious attitudes, historic practices, and the general educational level of most rural Haitians. Many Haitians who practice Voodoo view water and sources of water as sacred. Waterfalls and springs are generally viewed as sacred places in Voodoo for their natural beauty and provision. Catholicism also views water as sacred, but in a way more connected to God and the cleansing power of water. Both of these viewpoints are predisposed to view water as clean and sacred even when it may be contaminated with pathogens that can kill, especially when those pathogens are not visible and the water appears clean. This widespread perception of water as both sacred and safe is a major challenge for those trying to implement safe water interventions in Haiti.

"Haiti is an economically challenged country with many facing daily economic and health challenges. Water in large cities is often provided by central systems of fountains or through vendors of treated water in bottles and bags.

"In the mountains of Haiti, central water systems and bottled water are not widely available, so many drink untreated water from springs. A simple and effective solution for ensuring the safety of this water would be to boil all water consumed, but many do not have the money to buy fuel for sterilizing water and cooking their meals.

"Many Haitians are also unaware that the water is unsafe because it looks clean and may be collected from a spring emerging from rock. Numerous water treatment methods are available in Haiti; however, each has pros and cons and may have applicability for some regions more than others.

"Water quality in the shallow unconfined aquifers of Haiti is clearly being impacted by inadequate sanitation infrastructure and practices and, in some cases, improperly installed or located pit latrines. This results in widespread contamination of groundwater with pathogens which negatively impacts the health of many Haitians. POU, HWT, and other water treatment interventions exist; however, many of these solutions require careful selection, education, and follow up to remain sustainable and effective. Climate-change-induced alterations to the already variable precipitation and climate will likely make it more challenging to provide safe and sustainable safe water in Haiti.

"The database of water points obtained for this study allowed limited quantitative and qualitative analysis of water contamination at the department level. Similar data are needed across all departments in Haiti so that regional trends can be better understood and reported. Data inconsistencies among departments poses a challenge to this effort. Data will need to be compiled, and quality checked, to ensure that data from different departments are compatible with regional water quality analysis. Regional water quality analysis would be aided by a centralized database into which water quality data could be contributed. Only after widespread collection and compilation of additional data will a country-wide assessment of groundwater contamination be possible.

"Quantitative bacteriological data, using a method such as the IDEXX Colilert-18, would provide more useful information about bacterial contamination than the semiquantitative Aquagenx bag method. However, the logistics and cost of the IDEXX method may prevent its widespread use.

"The distribution, education, and support for POU and HWT options should be decentralized and democratized. This could be achieved through a network of trained resellers operating in a similar manner to the way Digicel Cell Phone company uses “Papa Dap” vendors who resell phone minutes. Each of these independent contractors purchases minutes from Digicel then resells them for a slight profit. This model encourages widespread availability of cell phone minutes, even in rural areas. A similar network of water-treatment-solution vendors could make water treatment tools and support widely available, even in rural areas without NGO intervention or support. Vendor training and support could be offered by local NGOs, DINEPA or OREPA staff, schools, or a combination of these entities.

"Biweekly street markets, which take place in most Haitian towns and villages, are a widespread and universal place where Haitians gather to buy and sell food and household items. These markets represent a potentially effective opportunity to distribute, and provide local education and support for POU water-treatment devices. Information and POU products could be provided to market resellers at these community gathering places along with accurate information and support, thus simplifying distribution and support.

"Many different strategies and projects to provide safe and sustainable water have been attempted in Haiti, most with limited long-term success. Providing Haitians with inexpensive and readily available POU water treatment at convenient and familiar locations, and in a culturally compatible way, may be the best means of reaching the goal of universal access to clean water in Haiti in the near term. Western-style water treatment infrastructure and water distribution systems, although perhaps more technologically effective, are simply not culturally or economically compatible with most rural Haitian communities.

"Long-term and widespread improvement of groundwater quality in Haiti will require changes in land-use management and agricultural practices to reduce deforestation, erosion, and soil loss. Other long-term solutions include the installation of properly constructed deep wells (>30 m) near populated areas, conversion of hand-dug wells to in-situ filtration wells, development of a network of community-based water experts to support/maintain in-home treatment methods, and ecological restoration and reforestation. 

"Both ecological restoration and widespread reforestation will require changes in the land management, new land-use laws, and enforcement of existing land-use laws."

Source | Springer Link Hydrogeology Journal Article  (March 26, 2022). Illustrations, links, and reference citations included.