Article and photos by Sam Vigersky
8:00 AM in Port-au-Prince and the thermometer reads 92 degrees. Julie
Longpré, a civil engineer working in water and sanitation for PAHO/WHO
doesn’t seem bothered. When she arrives at the Penguin Water Center a
dozen noisy trucks idle in lines, waiting their turn to fill-up with
chlorinated water for delivery to hundreds-of-thousands of people
living in settlement sites. “This is one of the best parts of my job,”
she says, preparing to take water samples by emptying her pockets of
anything that can’t get wet and grabbing three glass jars.
approaches a truck and tells the driver she needs a sample, and with
permission, carefully ascends a ladder until reaching the roof nine
feet up. With feet planted,
she extends her arm and the glass jar clasped in her hand suddenly
disappears in a torrent of water rushing from the pipe above towards
the trucks hull. In 90 seconds, three water samples are taken and Julie
has managed to become soaking wet. “Working in the field is definitely
fun. Especially when you can get wet on a hot day!” The water collected
on this day will be analyzed at the THW (German Federal Agency for
Technical Relief) laboratory.
small samples are an important part of the elaborately choreographed
system that brings together the Haitian Government, UN agencies and
NGOs. The result is delivery of 4.2 million liters of clean drinking
water every day – a major success considering Port-au-Prince’s
notorious traffic jams and ever shrinking boulevards from rubble
spilling into the streets.
PAHO/WHO assists DINEPA (the National Direction for Potable Water and
Sanitation) with chlorination by providing HTH (High-Test Hypochlorite)
to water trucks at filling stations. This chlorination process kills
bacteria, which left untreated, can cause disease outbreaks like watery
diarrhea and gastrointestinal illness in crowded settlement sites. The
samples taken by Julie help determine whether the levels are safe
enough for drinking.
regular sampling Penguin, PAHO/WHO and THW are supporting the government in their efforts to
establish a water quality monitoring laboratory within the Ministry of
Agriculture and Natural Resources Laboratory at Tamarinier.
The laboratory will provide analysis of samples for monitoring and
outbreak control. Vendors will also be able to have their water
certified as being potable.
“The ability of the government to analyze water samples is essential
for health promotion and disease prevention activities,” noted Sally
Edwards, a PAHO/WHO advisor in Sustainable Development and
Environmental Health. “The monitoring laboratory will be a major
achievement in the delivery of clean water.”
at distribution centers is important, but to ensure the product is
safe, monitoring continues once water is transferred from trucks to
settlement sites. Here, problems can arise from contamination if there
is no residual chlorine on site. At some sites, water is stored in a
reservoir where people often place dirty buckets inside which can
contaminate the whole source. PAHO/WHO, as a member of the Water,
Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Cluster led by UNICEF, has been working
with a technical group to develop Water Quality Guidelines for
monitoring of water quality on site. The guidelines help NGOs managing
chlorine levels, offer hygiene promotion to prevent the spread of
disease, and ensure testing is done from source to site. Finally,
development of a Water Safety Plan for more sustainable management of
water resources in Haiti is being written.
These collaborative efforts, in both the present and future, will help
increase the amount of safe water throughout the country.