5 Things You Need to Know About Water in Haiti

May 27, 2015

Jean Michel lives near the town of Les Cayes, in the South of Haiti. He and his family used to bathe in the local river. “You clean yourself in the water that everyone uses. Anything can happen,” he says. A World Bank funded program gave him access to clean water in his own home and he has seen considerable improvement in his life, starting with the fact that “his skin doesn’t itch anymore.”

Building on this program, the World Bank Group recently launched a new project that will benefit around 300,000 Haitians in cholera affected areas – half of whom will gain access to improved water sources through household connections and water kiosks. 50,000 will have improved sanitation and the remaining 100,000 will benefit from small repairs and expansions of already existing water systems.

These 5 facts below show how urgent it is to improve the water and sanitation sector in Haiti.

Less than half of Haitians in rural areas have access to water.

People in the Haitian countryside are generally served through piped water systems with standpipes or water points with hand pumps, however a substantial portion of these systems is not operational, because of a lack of funds for operation and maintenance. To tackle this issue, a program funded by the World Bank in the South region of the country has installed professional operators to maintain water supply systems which have benefited 60,000 people.

This pilot is now being scaled up: a new 50 million dollars water program has just been approved and aims to prevent cholera and other waterborne diseases in high prevalence zones and improve access to water and sanitation by strengthening the capacity of local agencies, especially in rural areas and small towns.

24 percent of all Haitians have access to a toilet

Sustainable collection and treatment of sewage are practically non-existent throughout the country and only 24 percent of Haitians have access to a toilet. The government has focused on awareness and promotion campaigns to encourage households to build their own latrines, and on making sure there are sanitation facilities in public schools, health institutions and other public spaces. Furthermore, the Haitian government's launched a US$ 2.2 billion 10-year plan in February 2013 to eliminate cholera, which broadly outlines investments needed in water and sanitation as well as prevention, surveillance, and case management.

Diseases like cholera spread through contaminated water

Low access to clean water and improved sanitation make it easier for certain diseases to spread. After the 2010 earthquake, a cholera epidemic broke out and has cost more than 8,700 lives until now. The average number of cases has decreased since 2010, but has spiked during the first months of 2015 partly due to heavy rains. However, because of more efficient health responses, the mortality rate has decreased to less than one percent.

Improving sanitation is also about behavior

While access to a toilet or to clean drinking water is crucial, promoting certain behaviors is as important.  Knowing how important clean water is, purifying water and washing hands and food correctly are all essential to disease prevention. After the first cholera outbreak in Haiti, a World Bank emergency response reached over 3 million people by providing treatments, training doctors but also by socializing simple and lifesaving hygiene and health messages through prevention campaigns.

The water and sanitation sector still depends heavily on external financial assistance

International organizations fund 61 percent of the National Direction for Water and Sanitation’s operating costs. To ensure sustainability, it is important to increase revenues from water consumers so as to continue funding them in the future. To contribute to a solution and strengthen institutional capacity, the World Bank Group will support the sector in defining a long-term and sustainable financing plan.