Safe Water Needed Now More than Ever in Haiti

By Stephanie Lam
Stephanie Lam
Stephanie Lam
January 20, 2010 Updated: October 1, 2015

STRUGGLE FOR WATER: A woman collects water from a broken pipe in the street of Haiti's capital Port-au-Prince on Jan. 19. (Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)
STRUGGLE FOR WATER: A woman collects water from a broken pipe in the street of Haiti's capital Port-au-Prince on Jan. 19. (Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)
The impacts of the Haiti earthquake are not only immediate, but might be felt far into the future, say experts. Without adequate help, poor water quality may claim even more lives.

“The mudslides triggered by the tremors have contaminated the surface waters,” said Edward Bouwer, professor of Johns Hopkins University. While this contamination can be washed out in a short time, Bouwer also noted that the earthquake might have released toxins previously trapped in formations.

Dr. Ulrick Gaillard, CEO of the Batey Relief Alliance, a humanitarian aid organization, and professor of Indiana University, is currently working in Haiti. He said that even before the earthquake, only 10 percent of Haitians had piped water at home, and contaminated water causing diarrhea contributed to 42 percent of infant deaths in rural areas. With the earthquake, many water systems and reservoirs were destroyed, so he expects that child mortality rates will be even greater.

Water systems might not be fully restored for “months, if not years,” said Gaillard.

Melanie Brooks, Media and Communications coordinator of CARE International explained that toilets and septic systems were damaged or destroyed during the earthquake, leading to people defecating in the open. This and the lack of clean water and soap will facilitate the transmission of diseases. If it rains, feces will be washed into water sources and the water will be further contaminated.

In addition, a lack of adequate food means that people’s immunity is lowered, so diseases may transmit even faster.

A toddler with severe diarrhea can die in a matter of two days, Brooks said.

CARE estimates that there are 37,000 pregnant women in the disaster zone who are in dire need of food and clean water. Dr. Franck Geneus, coordinator of CARE’s health program in Haiti, is also worried that women will stop breastfeeding their newborns.

To provide speedy relief, the Batey Relief Alliance is building a water purification system in Jacmel and hopes to distribute biosand water filters.

CARE is providing clean water through water tanker trucks at temporary water distribution points, and is distributing its PUR water purification packet, contains powdered chemicals that remove bacteria and suspended impurities, and each packet can purify 10 liters of water. It also plans to distribute food rations, tents, and hygiene kits soon.