Haiti: Waiting for water

Nearly six days after the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti, despite a global outpouring of concern and the mobilisation of an immense relief effort, there is a severe shortage of potable water in Port-au-Prince. As a New York Times op-ed piece by Steven Solomon explains, at the best of times “nearly half of all Haitians lack satisfactory access to clean drinking water”. With supply routes into Port-au-Prince disrupted by damage to infrastructure, recovery efforts are being hampered by the unavailability of this crucial resource. An article in the UK Guardian gives more details:

Four US ships carrying desalination equipment capable of producing up to 25,000 litres of water a day will not arrive for several days. The USS Carl Vinson, an aircraft carrier already at the scene, can produce 35,000 litres a day. But the problem is how to get the water to survivors.

Stephanie Bunker, of the UN's Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs in New York, said: “Some bottled water is en route but it is a very small amount. There has also been some distribution of purification tablets. Water is water. You can't last long without it.”

At the blog of the aid organisation KONPAY, a relief worker described the problem at an ad hoc triage hospital in the Delmas neighbourhood of Port-au-Prince:

We have teams in the Dominican Republic with truckloads of supplies, but they were stopped at the border and were not allowed entry. The situation here is desperate and getting restless. The John Hopkins Students who were visiting Rights based Haiti and AMURT when the earthquake hit, have been doing surveys and assessments of the clinics and refuggee camps in the nearby zones.  The surveys that they conducted two days ago show that none of the people in the camps had food or water to last them more than a day.

The frustration felt by many on the ground is also expressed in a series of updates by Twitter users. Musician and hotelier Richard Morse, posting to Twitter as @RAMhaiti, noted on the morning of Saturday 16 January that some doctors were “selling water”. That night, @fredodupoux wrote: “@carelpedre can u get CNN to give adress of God's Littlest Angels Orphanage to see if we can send them water.”

After sending out several appeals on behalf of the orphanage, @carelpedre remarked: “It's sad! It's Been 4 days now and we're begging for some water on twitter!”

One reader outside Haiti who took notice was Jamaica-based blogger Annie Paul. She commented on her blog the following morning:

This stark tweet reminded me of the gap between virtual reality and the REAL, constantly reminding us that no matter how empowered we feel by the new technologies there are too many people out there at the mercy of nature, without so much as the crudest tools at their disposal to withstand its ravages.

By Sunday morning, @carelpedre was able to report that “The[y] are fillling water gallons up in petion-ville. In front of scotiabank! Pass it on!”

And other more positive news has been sporadically appearing. The Livesay [Haiti] Weblog mentions (with no other details) that

Water purification in the form of a safe chlorine product is being made around the clock and will be distributed for people to add to their dirty water source and be able to make it safe to drink

how can they hear, the blog of a religious aid group in Jacmel (on Haiti's south coast), reports that “We just bought over 60 gallons of safe drinking water today. That should cover us for about a month to 6 weeks.” The Republica Inaguantable blog notes that one relief centre in the Dominican Republic has collected one thousand bottles of drinking water to send to Haiti.

Donors in many parts of the world have collected bottled water and purification equipment to send to Haiti, but getting these into the country and into devastated areas remains a major problem. Without an efficient supply network, disease and dehydration threaten to add even more casualties to the immediate toll of the earthquake.

Please visit the Global Voices Haiti Earthquake page for more coverage of the event.

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