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Water.org is the charitable organization co-founded by Matt Damon and Gary White in 2009. The organization has worked in many developing nations including Haiti, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Honduras, Uganda, Ghana, Kenya, and India. They work to not only provide the communities they help with potable water but also better sanitation; however, the power of these projects is put in the hands of the communities themselves.
While working in Haiti, water.org tries to work with local non-profit organizations that know the local, usually rural communities and can better understand their cultural, political, and environmental needs. The local partner will also know what the best technologies to use for that region are based on the environmental needs of the community and whether or not the parts for repair are easily obtained in that region or country.
Additionally, water.org does its best to work with the Haitian government and DINEPA, the organization responsible for water regulations in Haiti. Recently DINEPA has been addressing the cholera epidemic that began in October 2010 after the earthquake, monitoring water quality throughout the country, and decentralizing water and sanitation so that there are regional representatives. This decentralization works well with the water.org system
Water.org has been in Haiti since 2009 and has helped to sustainably provide 18.000 people – mainly in the Pignon region of Saint-Raphael – with potable water; their goal is to reach 50.000 by March of 2014.
In addition to providing drinkable water, water.org does its best to encourage better sanitation practices. They will analyze what sanitation barriers are in place and what the needs of the community are. Currently in most of Haiti only fifty-one percent of individuals are using some kind of latrine as opposed to the eighty-three percent of people who have and use these sanitation measures in communities aided by water.org. However, Laura Ralston, International Programs Manager, states, “you will always find people who are not necessarily going to be on board [with sanitation measures] for whatever reason.” Unfortunately these seventeen percent of people are still affecting the health of the rest of the community.
Ralston stated that in one community she visited recently, the water sanitation committee put together by water.org was “at their wit’s end” trying to get the last few households to get latrines. The families did not have financial difficulty, but simply did not see the need. According to Ralston, some individuals do not see a need for the latrines even after they are given presentations and explanations.
Perhaps the most important aspect of water.org’s work is the community involvement. Water.org is, of course, essential for the projects, but they only get involved with communities who reach out to them through their local non-governmental organizations or charities. Then the community forms a committee to oversee the water and sanitation projects and to collect the maintenance fees for the well. The communities will also decide the rules and regulations regarding the wells and what kind of savings threshold they want to meet every month as a community. Only when these communities have trouble does water.org intervene with advice and as a facilitator of conversations. Ralston claims that “it’s [the communities] prerogative to meet those thresholds.”
As of now all of the communities in Haiti are meeting their savings goals. Some communities are even saving enough money to consider getting a solar panel for their well or another well for the purposes of irrigation. It is very important to water.org, according to Ralston, that these projects are sustainable for the community financially and technically so that when water.org leaves the community will not have to worry about the well breaking and the funds or parts not being there to fix it.
Most of the projects in Haiti use wells but there are some that capture water from springs. Before determining which type of construction needs to be done, water.org and the local partner will do hydrological and sometimes geological assessments. It is also important for them and the community to know if the spring they are using is in a delicate watershed.
The community is also responsible for the water quality treatments from the wells and springs. Most of these water supplies will require chlorine treatments before human use and the community can decide whether they want some kind of automatic dispenser or if they would prefer to do the treatments manually.
Since the devasting Haiti earthquake in 2010, over 4500 people have died from cholera. The main source of this contamination was the Artibonite River. The journal Nature published an article that claimed Haiti’s limited resources should be spent not on vaccinations but on sanitation and access to clean water. Obviously, water.org has been working towards these goals and begin their projects with surveys and assessments. After the communities have taken over the responsibilities of sanitation and clean water some have continued to do surveys and gather data on how many are sick and they are seeing improvements in fewer numbers of cholera cases.
Some projects are not always successful. Although water.org may start a project in a location, the project can be halted for several reasons such as a lack of any kind of water resource, or human interference. Human reasons are the main reason for the cancellation of projects such as social reasons, rivaling groups, or political disputes. According to Ralston the problem boils down to “money always complicates things.”
Water.org will continue its work in Haiti until it hopefully reaches its 2014 goal of 50000 people with potable water. Although water.org has other projects elsewhere around the globe Ralston claims the direst situations at this time are in Haiti so this is where they will focus.
Image Courtesy of Water.Org