This is another installment in our series of articles on volunteering in Haiti, selected from the articles written for our contest with Helium and GlobalPost. Read our first article selection and more background here.
By Paul Lines
Giving time on a voluntary basis is one positive way we can assist people, including children, to rebuild their families, lives and communities, and give them hope for the future. This gift of time, even as little as two weeks, is especially important for people in a country like Haiti where, over two years since its capital and surrounding areas were destroyed by a major earthquake and aftershocks, over one and a half million homeless still live in squalor in tent cities and the rubble of destroyed homes and communities.
UniversalGiving is a non-profit charity organisation, which focuses upon bringing together in one place projects that require volunteer help. In Haiti, these projects range from helping to educate children to becoming involved in the disaster relief and reconstruction projects that are still desperately needed for people in a ravaged country who often seem to be have been forgotten by the outside world.
Personally, in giving two weeks volunteer time I would focus upon the reconstruction projects. In particular, I would wish to participate in those projects related to the reconstruction of the country’s water, sanitation and sewage systems, and to provide the resources and information to enable the Haitian people to protect themselves by purifying the water they use and drink.
The reason I would choose this project to give my time to is that the population of Haiti, which witnessed approaching half a million deaths following the earthquake and aftershocks, and nearly three times that number being made homeless has, since October 2010, been in the grip of another potentially fatal catastrophe, this being an outbreak of Cholera. This outbreak is, according to Jon Andrus of the Pan American Health Organisation, “one of the largest cholera epidemics in modern history to affect a single country.”
To date, over half a million people in Haiti have contracted Cholera and around 200 new cases are being reported every day, a number which is likely to escalate during Haiti’s rainy season in April. Although the rate of deaths has been reduced through the efforts of aid agencies, the number of Cholera fatalities in Haiti is still continuing to rise. This means that yet more parents in Haiti are losing their children, or visa-versa, and families who have already suffered the loss of loved ones are being subjected to yet more grief. However, fatality is not the only consequence of Cholera. Cholera can result in low blood pressure and kidney damage.
It can also be passed easily by an infected person to others, especially in a country like Haiti where sanitation conditions remain a problem following the earthquake.
In western communities, we turn on taps with the assurance that comes with the knowledge that the water we drink has been purified. We are comforted by the fact that sanitation and sewage systems will eradicate water-borne disease that might be harmful to our health. Even when supplies are disrupted, we have the means and knowledge to purify our water supply in the home.
The population of Haiti does not have these comforts and confidence. The earthquake in 2010 destroyed most of the country’s sanitation and sewage infrastructure. Even many people who live in the more rural areas are several miles from a clean water supply. The displaced and homeless, who remain in the supposedly temporary tented cities and rubble in areas like Port-au-Prince, once the jewel in Haiti’s crown, are forced to gather water from any available source, which often means puddles and other supplies of rain water that has been contaminated by sewage and other water-borne dangers. Many of these people do not have the funds or access to equipment and sanitary products to be able to cleanse the water they use for cooking, bathing and drinking.
Andrus’s report reveals that although efforts are being made to restore the sanitation infrastructure in Haiti, these are falling woefully short of what is needed, and that it will cost around $1.1 billion to construct and develop the plants and systems that will provide the people of Haiti with a clean water supply.
It is for these reasons that volunteering two weeks of time, or even longer, to assist with this area of reconstruction would be so important. If these two weeks reduce the rate of Cholera infection by ten people a day, ten volunteers would halve the current prevalence of the disease. Not only would this provide the people of Haiti with respite from the grief and suffering they have had to endure for over two years, but also give them hope for a healthy future. However, simply explaining what project to volunteer for is not enough. To make a material difference to Haiti’s sanitation and water supply problems, one has to make a positive commitment.