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HAITI: Waiting Five Years for a Drop of Water – Part 2

Correspondents* - IPS/Haiti Grassroots Watch

A young boy on one of his daily trips to fetch water. Credit: James Alexis/Haiti Grassroots Watch

A young boy on one of his daily trips to fetch water. Credit: James Alexis/Haiti Grassroots Watch

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Nov 25 2011 (IPS) - Despite, or perhaps because of, a host of international actors, 2.5 million U.S. dollars in funding and five years of empty promises, residents of some of Port-au-Prince’s poorest neighbourhoods have yet to see running water in their vicinity.

A young boy on one of his daily trips to fetch water. Credit: James Alexis/Haiti Grassroots Watch

A young boy on one of his daily trips to fetch water. Credit: James Alexis/Haiti Grassroots Watch

According to all the actors involved (see sidebar), a delay in the disbursement of funds has been one of several factors that has postponed the completion of the project.

Engineer Raphael Hosty, of DINEPA, told HGW that the project was slated to take 18 months overall. The necessity of two studies should not have delayed the project so much, he said. According to Hosty, TECINA and the other companies stopped working in December 2009.

Chandler Hypolite, a field agent for GRET, said the neighbourhood committees responsible for managing the water kiosks were ready to start by the end of December.

But the work had stopped.

“The companies working on the project stopped receiving money,” he said. “They refused to work… the project came to a halt before the January 12, 2010, earthquake.”

The EU’s Léger admitted the flow of money did stop momentarily.

“There was no problem of financing,” the UTPR’s Léger told Haiti Grassrooots Watch (HGW). “There was perhaps a delay in payment… because in the meantime, we were changing the computer system, which slowed down some of our casework.”

And then the January 12, 2010, earthquake struck, devastating much of the capital and killing over 200,000 people. Another delay. Not in terms of damage, but because after the disaster the EU legitimately had other priorities for many months.

Customs delays

In addition to the disbursement delays, the Haitian customs office is partly responsible for the slow progress of the project, according to many of the actors. Haiti’s port and customs offices are world famous for their inefficiency and corruption.

A study by the World Bank cited by the Miami Herald in 2010 showed that Haiti’s port costs businesspeople and importers twice what they pay in the Dominican Republic, and that getting material out of customs can take three times as long.

A senior advisor to the National Port Authority, Hughes Desgranges, who was cited in the article, admitted that the port is more of a “social program” than a “commercial program” because of the salaries paid to “ghost” employees or employees who weren’t necessary.

Everyone participating in the water project criticised customs, including Hypolite, who said, “The pumps were blocked.”

Not a drop of water

Finally, almost two years later, the work is almost finished, but progress has been very slow. Workers don’t come every day and the proposed end date of October 31 has already passed.

“The delays in connecting the reservoir with the pipe network weren’t small,” the EU’s Bazin admitted in an interview with HGW in September. “Today the situation is this: the firm needs to install the valves on the back of the reservoir that will assure it fills and functions normally.”

Bazin’s frustration was clear.

“When things go well, they never say its because the EU did everything possible to make it work,” Bazin said with an ironic tone. “The same way, one shouldn’t blame the EU [only] when things go badly.”

The Actors

The funder: The European Union office and its Technical Unit for Rehabilitation Programs (L’Unité Technique des Programmes de Réhabilitation - UTPR).

The state: The Autonomous Central Metropolitan Water Authority (Centrale Autonome Métropolitaine d’Eau Potable - CAMEP), today called the National Direction of Drinking Water and Sanitation (Direction Nationale de l'Eau Potable et de l'Assainissement - DINEPA)

The non-governmental organisation (NGO): A French NGO, the Group for Research and Exchange of Technologies (Groupe de Recherche et d'Echanges Technologiques - GRET), which has worked in the area of water in Haiti since 1995.

The reasons for things “going badly” are many – delays in disbursements and at customs, and conducting the two studies.

But could it also be because of the multiplicity of actors – several government agencies, of the EU, an NGO and three private firms?

And why were three-quarters of the budget (75 million gourdes, or about 1.875 million U.S. dollars) used for the “rehabilitation of networks” and “social accompaniment”? Why were the budgets adjusted after the second study so that a reservoir of 1,200 cubic meters could still be constructed?

HGW could not look into all aspects of this complex project, but it’s probable that the responsibility does not rest with merely one or another actor.

While the percentages of the blame are not known, several things are certain. There is a new reservoir, but with one-third less capacity than initially planned. There are kiosks. And pipes.

But the implementation of a viable solution to a daily challenge for 25,000 people has taken more than five years instead of 18 months, and it has a reduced capacity for what is probably a larger population.

Nadège Thermilus, an unemployed 22-year-old woman, has high hopes. Like her friends at her side, she’s on her way to draw water at a place they call “in the mountains,” perhaps about two hours away, round-trip.

Before heading back up to the mountains, she said, “I hope the water comes, because I’ve lived too much misery going to get it.”

*This story is the second in a two-part series on bringing running water to impoverished neighbourhoods of Port-au-Prince.

Students from the Journalism Laboratory at the State University of Haiti collaborated on this series.

Haiti Grassroots Watch is a partnership of AlterPresse, the Society of the Animation of Social Communication (SAKS), the Network of Women Community Radio Broadcasters (REFRAKA) and community radio stations from the Association of Haitian Community Media.

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