Coun­try in dire need weeks af­ter hur­ri­cane smashed wa­ter net­work

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t’s been nearly a month since Hur­ri­cane Matthew tore through south­ern Haiti and peo­ple like Ket­t­ley Rosier and many of her neigh­bours still have to spend their mea­gre sav­ings to buy drink­ing wa­ter.

Reser­voirs and pipe net­works that peo­ple de­pend on for wa­ter across the coun­try’s south­ern penin­sula were con­tam­i­nated or damaged by a com­bi­na­tion of ocean storm surge and sewage from the over­flow­ing la­trines that are com­monly used in rural Haiti. Wells were sub­merged by rivers that topped their banks and car­ried cholera bac­te­ria, which epi­demi­ol­o­gists sus­pect has sick­ened thou­sands of peo­ple since the Cat­e­gory 4 hur­ri­cane.

That means there is just not enough clean wa­ter to drink, let alone bathe, in places like the town of Coteaux, adding to the mis­ery in an area where many peo­ple lost their homes, as well as the crops and live­stock they need to sur­vive.

“We’re tired of this,” Rosier said on a re­cent morn­ing, scratch­ing at skin ir­ri­tated af­ter bathing with murky well wa­ter. For drink­ing wa­ter, she has to buy small bags from street ven­dors. “God only knows when the good wa­ter will come back.”

An army of in­ter­na­tional re­lief teams have put enor­mous work into clean­ing con­tam­i­nated wells, dis­tribut­ing mil­lions of wa­ter-pu­ri­fy­ing tablets and in­stalling wa­ter treat­ment sta­tions in ar­eas that bore the worst of the hur­ri­cane. But it’s not yet enough.

Roughly 90 per cent of the piped wa­ter sup­ply sys­tems in south­west Haiti were damaged by the storm that struck on Oc­to­ber 4, ac­cord­ing to Haiti’s Na­tional Wa­ter and San­i­ta­tion Direc­torate.

Com­mu­nal and pri­vate wells were con­tam­i­nated across three prov­inces.

The ex­ten­sive con­tam­i­na­tion of wells and the large amount of rain dumped by Hur­ri­cane Matthew cre­ated ideal con­di­tions for spread­ing wa­ter­borne dis­eases in­clud­ing cholera, which causes rapid de­hy­dra­tion and can kill a hu­man within hours if not treated. Au­thor­i­ties and aid groups say they have de­tected fe­cal mat­ter and E coli bac­te­ria in drink­ing sup­plies.

“A lot of sources are con­tam­i­nated at the mo­ment,” said Leo Trem­blay, a Cana­dian wa­ter and san­i­ta­tion co­or­di­na­tor with Doc­tors With­out Bor­ders, which is over­see­ing a cholera treat­ment cen­tre in the vil­lage of Port-aPi­ment and has sent staff by don­key to pro­vide aid to re­mote moun­tain vil­lages.

The hu­man­i­tar­ian group said on Fri­day that its teams were see­ing “de­te­ri­o­rat­ing health con­di­tions” in heav­ily hit zones.

In the dev­as­tated city of Jeremie, two wa­ter pu­rifi­ca­tion sta­tions op­er­ated by French gov­ern­ment emer­gency work­ers have so far trans­formed river wa­ter into 450,000 litres of potable wa­ter. But in­ter­na­tional spe­cial­ists say many com­mu­ni­ties right along shore­lines still aren’t get­ting ad­e­quate sup­plies.

Com­pli­cat­ing mat­ters, some storm vic­tims are tak­ing chances with their health.

In parts of the city of Les Cayes, peo­ple could be seen drink­ing straight from a con­tam­i­nated well, by­pass­ing treated sup­plies set up by Wa­ter Mis­sion. “Our bod­ies are used to dirty wa­ter. Maybe if we go to that new wa­ter place we’ll fall sick,” said Ephraim Bernard, a job­less 24-year-old stand­ing by the con­tam­i­nated well, lo­cated by a trash pit where three peo­ple were openly defe­cat­ing on a re­cent morn­ing.

Cholera was likely in­tro­duced to Haiti in 2010 by UN peace­keep­ers from Nepal and it has killed about 10,000 peo­ple and sick­ened more than 800,000. Haitians are gen­er­ally aware of the risk and fam­i­lies of­ten go to great lengths to en­sure they stay healthy.

Au­thor­i­ties say the wa­ter sit­u­a­tion isn’t likely to be re­solved soon.

Jean-Martin Brault, a wa­ter and san­i­ta­tion spe­cial­ist with the World Bank, said it’s likely there will be a need to dis­trib­ute wa­ter­pu­ri­fy­ing tablets and safe drink­ing wa­ter for six months in hard-hit zones.

Clock­wise from top; res­i­dents col­lect wa­ter from a well; bathe in a river; and teams work on sup­ply­ing clean wa­ter

STYLE:

RATIONS: A woman takes a sip of clean wa­ter in Tor­bec, Haiti

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