PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, (September 1, 2011)— For seven-year-old Babylove Milande Clement, every new day means tiring walks in the sun across her displacement camp outside of Port-au-Prince to buy safe water for her and her mother. Carefully balancing the water-filled bucket on her head so as not to spill a drop, she makes her way from a water kiosk to the tent where the two live alone.
"I have to go back and forth from the water kiosk at least four times a day," said Babylove tiredly.
Babylove's case is not uncommon, as access to drinking water for people in the camps and many communities in Haiti is often cost-prohibitive.
"Water kiosks sell treated drinking water for 50 cents to a US dollar per 5 gallons," explained Georges Tabbal from UNICEF's Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) section. "With most Haitians surviving on less than a dollar day, the price of water is more than many here can pay.”
This need to ensure accessible and safe water is why UNICEF and its partner the NGO Allied Recovery International (ARI) have combined their efforts to provide neighborhoods in Leogane and Port-au-Prince with community wells - a cheaper and sustainable alternative to kiosks.
"The construction of wells is one of the most effective and cheapest ways to allow easy access to safe drinking water for as many people as possible," said Mr. Tabbal. "Each well site will have a committee put in charge to make sure it keeps running properly."
"We have two water towers here, but you can't drink the water, it's only for washing," said Louie Marie Silia Auguste, 57, a neighbor of Babylove who keeps an eye on her while her mother is away working."Some people drink it anyway because they are so thirsty, but they usually get sick."
Mr. Tabbal highlighted that UNICEF-supported education campaigns promoting good hygiene practices and cholera prevention messages, have been effective. "We have emphasized the importance of chlorinating drinking water during a cholera epidemic," he said. "Community mobilization activities have made people more aware now of the risks of waterborne diseases like cholera."
The 60 wells UNICEF and ARI have targeted to install in Leogane and Port-au-Prince are between 40 and 60 feet deep which make them unlikely to be contaminated. One well producing enough water for 500 people a day is also an additional incentive for displaced people to leave temporary camps and to return to their original neighborhoods. To date 57 wells are already in use by communities.
Inspecting a finished well in a school in downtown Port-au-Prince, Mr. Tabbal watches children curiously trying the foot pump of the well.
"This water still seems muddy, so we're going to clean the well with high pressure," Mr. Tabbal noted. "After that it will be ready to use."
By improving access to safe and affordable water, UNICEF Haiti is making life easier for thousands of children in the displacement camps of Haiti and remote communities.