“Port-au-Prince has 900 different tariffs,” said Corinne Cathala, a water and sanitation senior specialist with the IDB. “It happens that clients are charged differently for the same consumption of water. If people don’t understand what they are being charged for, they won’t pay.”
So far, the efforts seem to be paying off. Officials estimate that by the end of 2014, they will have more than 65,000 billed customers on the rolls — up from 30,000 in 2011. In addition, 86,000 Haitians today are benefiting from dozens of water distribution networks mostly in rural communities.
“We have technicians walking in the [communities] explaining the water issue,” said Lionel Duvalsaint, the head of DINEPA.
A former New York City water engineer, Duvalsaint likes to tell the story about the day last summer the water pump was turned on after four years in the northern village of Grande-Rivière-du-Nord.
The crew had been working feverishly for weeks. On the eve of the town’s patron saint celebrations, Duvalsaint called over a little boy and told him to bring a bucket. The kid looked skeptical.
“I personally gave the first bucket of water to that little boy,” Duvalsaint said. “I don’t know what the people of Grande-Rivière-du-Nord were doing for water.”
“Water is life,” Duvalsaint said. “The most beautiful gift that you can give to a people is water. It is something that is vital.”
Daniel Ovide, a resident of Anse-a-Veau, an isolated rustic village in the Nippes region, agreed. Though the town currently receives free potable water six days a week from a charitable organization, Ovide and others welcomed a recent visit by the IDB’s Moreno and Haiti President Michel Martelly to announce the Bank’s financing of a $1.6 million water network.
But providing something as basic as water remains challenging in a country with limited resources and where people have been allowed to build haphazardly without urban planning.
That reality is not lost on donors, said Spanish Ambassador Manuel Hernández Ruigómez. Helping Haiti provide water and sanitation to the population is a huge priority — “and will take patience,” Hernández said.
At the start of the cholera epidemic, Spain financed the construction of a wastewater treatment plant — one of only two in the nation — on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince. The second plant, constructed by U.N. agencies, is off-line because of a lack of funding.
“We are trying to see what the possibilities are…for that plant to work,” Hernandez said. “We built our plant to help prevent the propagation of illnesses such as cholera and others related to human waste.”
Since its outbreak nearly a year after Haiti’s deadly January 2010 earthquake, cholera has killed 8,120 Haitians and sickened 658, 053. Earlier this month, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon reiterated calls to the world’s philanthropists to help “fill a severe funding gap” in Haiti’s fight against eliminating the waterborne disease.
Outside of Port-au-Prince, where most water springs have long dried up and rural populations have even less access to potable water, efforts are also underway to help address sanitation and water access. Along the Artibonite River, where cholera first broke out, DINEPA has built dozens of plants to treat river water. In Les Cayes and Jacmel in the south, customers are getting water piped into their homes for the first time.
Still, the biggest challenge for Haiti — along with figuring out how to produce more water — will be maintenance of the network, donors say.
“The company has to provide a good service for the people to be willing to pay the tax,” said Cathala of the IDB. “But nobody will have water 24 hours a day if water production isn’t increased.”