Johanna’s Story | “I honestly feel like I’ve been living in Haiti my whole life”

Johanna Murray, studying International Development and Food Policy at University College Cork (UCC), is taking on a three-month placement with our team in Haiti: here, she tells us how her time in Haiti brings a realisation of how easily basic things like water can be taken for granted…

Hey everyone, thank you for checking into this blog!

So, unfortunately, I spent the last week in Port au Prince in bed suffering with some sort of food poisoning (lesson learned: don’t eat goat’s mince!). It was nice to chill out for a few days and the staff of Haven were saviours in terms of getting me to the doctor and making sure I was okay. I’m still not 100% but I’m getting there, thankfully.

Another week down and I honestly feel like I’ve been living in Haiti my whole life. It seems like years ago since I was back at home in Ireland.

Obviously, living in Haiti, especially on Île à Vache, is completely different to home. The people here have, in some ways, more and, in other ways, less problems then we have in Ireland. One huge thing many of us  take advantage of at home is access to water. It didn’t really hit Sandra, Haven’s Programmes Manager, or I until we reached Île à Vache. Something as simple as taking a shower or even flushing the toilet is not certain as, depending if it rains or not, there may be no water in the tank. It is honestly so heartbreaking when you come back from the sun, and you’re sweaty and hot; all you want in the world is a shower, but there is no water there, so you either get on with it or you ask someone around to literally pour water into the tank above.

This doesn’t even take drinking water into account. Recently, I was on a visit to the local clinic on Île à Vache with Nadine, Haven’s Community Development and Livelihoods Officer. We were taking an overview of the recent illnesses recorded at the clinic. Much to our surprise, illnesses including wet lung and typhoid had massively increased over a relatively short space of time. This turned out to be due to people drinking water which had not been treated with water-purifying aquatabs, because of a miscommunication about their distribution.

Haiti is recognised as a water-scarce country. At the moment, 52% of its rural population and 35% of the urban population only have access to unimproved drinking water sources; these water sources may also be quite a distance from their homes.

That is why building wells is an important part of remedying this, and why, therefore, we regularly construct wells in communities which need that vital resource.  In 2018, we are constructing nine new wells on Île à Vache as part of our Income Generation Programme, bringing water to twelve remote communities which currently have no access to it.

This is just one aspect of our work involving water.  We are also working to pump water to a new station in the area of Pointe Est on Île à Vache, where 250 families lack access to clean water; two large water tanks will also ensure that water can be safely collected and reserved for times of drought.  Currently forced to travel long distances to collect water to nourish their land and use in everyday activities, such as for washing, this project will make an enormous difference to each of these families.

This project builds on work completed in 2017, when we developed a new line to pump water to the rural area of Gros Morne on the island, building a large water storage tank nearby which 70 farmers now use to irrigate their land: this improve their crops and increases their harvests, and saves them vast amounts of time and energy as well.

So, as you can see, without this kind of work, the lack of clean water and access to water hinders communities in reaching their full potential. It is something we rarely even think about.

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