Waiting Five Years for a Drop of Water – Part 1

Posted on 27 November 2011 by admin

Trips to fetch water a part of daily life for many Haitians in the surrounding neighbourhoods of Port-au-Prince. Credit: James Alexis/Haiti Grassroots Watch

PORT-AU-PRINCE, NOV 25, 2011 (IPS/Haiti Grassroots Watch) – 2.5 million U.S. dollars to supply water to several marginal neighbourhoods in the capital. Approved in 2006. Five years later the water has yet to run. Children are still in the streets bearing bottles and buckets.The project is almost finished. “The end of October,” says the funder. It’s almost December. Nobody up here pays much attention to promises anymore.

Why? And why five years? Haiti Grassroots Watch (HGW) and the students at the State University’s Faculty of Human Sciences investigated.

Despite a new reservoir, pipes, and over a dozen water fountains, the people who live in the poor neighbourhoods of Debussy and Upper Turgeau still have to walk for long hours to obtain this life-saving resource. During their daily pilgrimage, the adults and children – who are sometimes only five or six years old – pass by dry water kiosks.

Tercy, a university student, lives in Georges City, one of the miserable and informal neighbourhoods of Turgeau. He shares a little cement block hut with his sister. Among his other daily activities, Tercy (who didn’t want to reveal his last name), said he has to get up very early to get water before going down to the faculty.

“I leave home at 5:35 a.m. to get two gallons of water. Now its almost 7 am,” he said, wiping sweat from his face. Only after the long trek can he bathe and prepare to go to class.

Emmanuel Lima, carrying a full bucket on his head, relayed similar comments. Alluding to the unfinished water project, he said, “It will be a good opportunity for the neighbourhood, but they are taking too long to finish it.”

“In this country, those in power are too negligent. They don’t take care of the really important thing(s). Everyone just wants to get rich,” the 42-year-old said indignantly.

Lima and Tercy are among the hundreds of thousands of Port-au-Prince residents who have to collect and often buy their water in buckets. Some two-thirds of the capital region’s population have to buy water. Only 11 percent have interior faucets, according to 2002 data from the Haitian Institute of Statistics and Data Processing.

The European Union’s gift of water

In 2006, the European Union gave the green light to a new water project for Debussy and Turgeau, neighbourhoods populated by about 25,000 people jammed into huts, many of them on dangerous slopes. The project’s principal elements are a new reservoir and connections to 19 new water kiosks.

The project’s execution was and is overseen by three entities: the funder (the European Union), the state, and an NGO (see sidebar for details).

According to Benoist Bazin, head of the EU’s Infrastructure Section in Haiti, the total cost of the project was about 100 million gourdes (2.5 million U.S. dollars). One-quarter, about 25 million gourdes (625,000 U.S. dollars) was spent on the new reservoir.

The remaining 75 million U.S. dollars went to the rehabilitation of the water system by two private companies, and for “social accompaniment” carried out by the NGO GRET.

Maxo Saintil, a professor living in the Upper Turgeau area, was among those who, over five years ago, asked the government to put in a water system in order to alleviate people’s misery.

“The completion of the project will be a victory for us, the initiators, and it will benefit the population who will benefit from its service,” he told HGW.

But between the project’s approval and the beginning of work, three years went by.

“The project only started in January 2009,” Saintil remembered.

35 months later, the project is still incomplete, for many reasons. Examining them shows not only why the project remains unfinished, but also how so-called development aid sometimes works in Haiti.

Stumbling blocks

At the beginning, CAMEP hadn’t done an adequate study. According to Robenson Jonas Léger, coordinator of the EU’s UTPR, the CAMEP report was “incomplete” and had to be redone.

The first new study recommended a 1,200 cubic meter reservoir. That study, and a geotechnical study cost 246,093.63 gourdes (6,152.34 U.S. dollars). According to Léger, CAMEP approved the study but then expressed certain worries, since the study didn’t account for a possible earthquake. The proposed reservoir was to be elevated above the ground, on supports.

“This was in 2007, and this was a good anticipation of the January 12, 2010 earthquake,” Léger noted in an email to HGW.

The second study cost 343,440 gourdes (8,586 U.S. dollars) and was finished on March 19, 2008, two years after the project was originally approved.

It called for a reduction in the reservoir’s size, from 1,200 to 900 cubic meters, “in order to stay within the limits of the available budget”, according to Léger. The study recommended a reservoir that sat on the ground, which is more expensive.

The company TECINA signed the contract for design and construction, for 24,073,324.22 gourdes (601,833 U.S. dollars), or about one-quarter of the total budget. But work didn’t begin immediately.

“The work started one year after the signature of contracts,” in March 2009, social worker Jean Ledu Annacacis of GRET remembered, in March 2009. Six months later, in December 2009, according to Léger, the work was almost finished. But not yet.

The water still wasn’t flowing.

*This story is the first 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.

(END)

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