Summer 2017 internship
Since the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010, the low quality of water sanitation has exacerbated. This has resulted in Haiti having the lowest rates of improvements in water infrastructure in the Western hemisphere, according to the 2012 report by the World Health Organization and UNICEF. Low-quality water infrastructure encourages waterborne disease, as seen with the cholera outbreak that occurred later in 2010. As a low-income country, many of Haiti’s inhabitants live in poverty and contract these diseases, which are an outcome of poor water hygiene. Unfortunately, many years of limited resources has made this complex problem more challenging and will therefore require longer-term planning to improve Haiti’s plight. This report will discuss the issue of water sanitation confronting Haiti and the origins of this cholera epidemic. It will explore sustainable suggestions which may help improve water hygiene as stated in Haiti’s National Plan of Action for the Elimination of Cholera in Haiti 2013-2022. Improving water infrastructure will conceivably decrease waterborne diseases and improve public health.
Following the 2010 earthquake, sewage contaminated with human waste leaked into one of Haiti’s largest water sources, the Artibonite (Piarroux, et al. 2011). Cholera, a disease that causes diarrhea and vomiting, can kill within 24 hours in nearly 50% of cases, which represents the magnitude of this problem in Haiti. This is also “preventable in nature,” as avoiding waterborne diseases can be solved with cleaner water sources. In terms of long-term solutions, country-wide infrastructural changes must occur. This need fed into the drafting of a nation-wide plan to respond to this epidemic and improve water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) in government-supported areas (Partners in Health, 2015). The core principle of WASH programs is the understanding that Haiti’s population is dying from an easily preventable disease, which can be remedied with cleaner water sources.
Besides poor water sanitation quality, numerous other risk factors make Haiti’s population susceptible to cholera and other waterborne diseases. Individuals living in poverty are mostly affected, since they are more likely to be surrounded by poorer sanitation habits, and will use contaminated water sources. Poor access to clean water represents the norm amongst Haiti’s inhabitants, since only 69% of the population can access clean water and only 17% can access sanitation facilities (Partners in Health, 2015). Children, infants, and the elderly are also mostly affected because they have weaker immunity. Limited education about waterborne and diarrheal diseases, include resources such as hand soaps and disinfectant. Different social health beliefs regarding sanitation contribute to the transmission of disease.
Poor water sanitation impacts Haiti in multiple ways. According to the UN Environmental Programme’s report, “more people die as a result of polluted water than…by all forms of violence including wars” (International Action, 2011). Contaminated water supplies are the leading cause of infant mortality in the country, making infant mortality in Haiti represent the highest rate in the Western hemisphere” (International Action, 2011). These statements reveal the social consequences of the problem, as the overall public health of Haiti is suffering. Many social improvements will occur if Haiti’s water infrastructure is improved. A disease-ridden community cannot live life to its fullest quality. Sickness caused by waterborne diseases causes individuals to stay at home from work, school, etc. If the population is healthier, quality of life in Haiti will be improved overall.
There are economic consequences to Haiti’s water sanitation. Historically, Haiti has had limited resources to direct towards water sanitation. Following the earthquake and cholera outbreak of 2010, many organizations rushed to provide short-term, quick solutions. To purify contaminated water sources throughout the country, expensive infrastructural changes must occur. To achieve this ambition, a National Plan was devised to improve water sanitation over the next decade (Baumgartner, Murcott, & Ezzati, 2007). $1.6 billion US dollars out of $2.2 billion was spent on improving water sanitation only. This shows the large economic strain that waterborne diseases cause a nation, since large, expensive infrastructural changes are needed to eradicate these diseases (Gelting, Bliss, Patrick, Lockhart & Handzel, 2013). Furthermore, this economic strain can be reversed with sustainable water sanitation improvements. These improvements can encourage economic growth, as more members of the community can attend work and educate themselves through schools, thereby improving Haiti’s national productivity.
Shortly after the earthquake in 2010, the World Health Organization (WHO) sent large quantities of vaccines in 2013 to firstly dampen the effects of waterborne diseases. While this is helpful, improvements in water sanitation are better preventative method to manage the devastating effects of waterborne diseases and should be a priority step to address the problem. International Action, a campaign to provide clean water for Haiti’s people, has very good recommendations for this problem. It has proposed many sustainable solutions for Haiti’s issues, which is important because many solutions despite the best of intentions have short-lived benefits. One of their programs is called “Clean Water in Schools”. The schools receive chlorinators to allow teachers to educate children in schools about hygienic water practices. The “Chlorine Distribution System” is another program, where local chlorine distribution sites will encourage communities to sustainably keep safe clean water in their regions (International Action, 2011). Chlorination is a method where chlorine is added to water to kill off bacteria in water. Other effective ways to sanitize water are two household water treatments, the Danvor plastic BioSand filter and the Potters for Peace Filtron ceramic filter. Both of these methods are inexpensive and very effective in decreasing pathogens in water. This means nations that do not have quality water sanitation infrastructure, these household methods are effective. They are easily transported and cheaper to develop and use (Baumgartner, et al. 2007). Another inexpensive way to avoid contracting waterborne disease while Haiti works on improving water infrastructure is to encourage mothers to breastfeed and to educate them on the benefits of this natural practice. Infants are more susceptible to infections, and therefore breastfeeding offers protection from cholera (Mitchell, 2010).
Improving water infrastructure in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake will offer long-term solutions to the country’s waterborne disease epidemic by purifying water contaminated with human waste. This will improve overall quality of life in Haiti and the economy over time.
Baumgartner, J., Murcott, S., & Ezzati, M. (8 june 2007). Reconsidering ‘appropriate technology’: the effects of operating conditions on the bacterial removal performance of two household drinking-water filter systems. Environmental Research Letters,2. doi:10.1088/1748-9326/2/2/024003
International Action. (2011, October 13). Clean Water: A Health Essential. Retrieved July 23, 2017, from http://www.haitiwater.org/why/why-clean-water
Gelting, R., Bliss, K., Patrick, M., Lockhart, G., & Handzel, T. (2013). Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in Haiti: Past, Present, and Future. The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, 89(4), 665–670. http://doi.org/10.4269/ajtmh.13-0217
Mitchell, C. (2010, November 18). PAHO WHO | PAHO: Breastfeeding Helps Protect Babies from Cholera. Retrieved July 23, 2017, from http://www.paho.org/hq/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=4463%3Apaho-breastfeeding-helps-protect-babies-from-cholera&Itemid=1926&lang=en
Partners in Health. (2015). Safe water, access to sanitation, hygiene key to kicking cholera. Retrieved from http://www.pih.org/blog/good-water-sanitation-hygiene-key-to-kicking-cholera.
Piarroux, R., Barrais, R., Faucher, B., Haus, R., Piarroux, M., Gaudart, J….Raoult, D. (2011). Understanding the Cholera Epidemic, Haiti. Emerging Infectious Diseases, 17(7), 1161-1168. https://dx.doi.org/10.3201/eid1707.110059.