PORT-AU-PRINCE — Known as the first Latin American country to gain independence from Europe, the nation of Haiti shares an island in the Caribbean with the Dominican Republic. Despite its auspicious beginnings, myriad issues including natural disasters have left much of Haiti in a state of disarray. For example, Port-Au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, remains one of the world’s largest cities without a sewage system. Furthermore, an estimated one in five Haitians doesn’t have access to any kind of toilet.
Throughout the city, instead of sewage lines taking waste to treatment plants, millions of people use outhouses that dump waste into canals and ditches. Many residents of low-income areas are forced to relieve themselves in fields and only in some cases do people pool money to pay someone to clean the waste. This has led to the significant levels of contamination in the drinking water, prompting outbreaks of cholera, a serious bacterial disease. The only way to truly prevent the cholera epidemic in Haiti is to build a network of pipes and waste treatment plants to prevent the infection of food and water supplies.
To begin combating the lack of a Haiti sewage system, international donors intended to develop and build sewage treatment plants all over the country. The first facility, named Morne a Cabrit, opened about an hour away from Port-Au-Prince in 2012.
However, after five years, the plans to build other plants have not progressed past their initial stages. With the Haitian government dependent on foreign aid for infrastructure, many critics believe that Haitian politicians place more emphasis on the wishes of donors than citizens. Poor governance combined with a rapidly worsening situation has led to the current state of Haiti’s sanitation system. Additionally, even with only one treatment plant, domestic funding has not been able to properly cover the costs associated with maintenance and payroll, leading to it operating below normal capacity.
International organizations such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are making efforts to help Haiti. For example, a solar-powered, electricity-generating toilet potentially offers thousands of Haitians a basic sanitation need. Another important piece of aid includes a facility that acts as a cholera clinic as well as a waste-treatment site. However, none of these solutions are permanent and are only meant to act as temporary stop-gaps to prevent the Haiti sewage system from worsening while providing the with government the chance to build true sanitation infrastructure.
Without outside help, Haiti has little chance of remedying the current sanitation situation. Many believe that the billions of dollars needed to introduce new infrastructure should be provided by the United Nations. The current levels of international aid offer a small respite but there needs to be significantly more focus on raising money and awareness for the Haiti sewage system.
– Akhil Reddy