Amanda Schwartz from PIH's Boston-based development team recently visited Haiti to learn how water affects the lives of the poor.

 
 

Haitian women fetching water.

 
 

Walking through muddy streams to reach a water source.

 
 

Children fill their jugs with water before preparing for the long journey back to their homes.

Sometimes it takes a hurricane to realize the value of a bridge. And other times it’s only a matter of an afternoon rainstorm to understand the potential of a stream. In Haiti, it seems that no matter where you go, the power of water is indeed axiomatic: in clinics, in homes, in hilltops, it is the source both of life and of loss. I learned about the power of water—in raindrops and springs alike—in early May, on a visit to central Haiti with a team from charity: water, an organization that supports PIH’s clean water initiatives in Haiti.

In many of the communities where Zanmi Lasante (ZL) works, community members collect drinking water from natural springs that are near—or in some cases very far—from their homes. Because many of these springs are unprotected, the water that entire communities are living off of becomes a perfect breeding ground for parasites and waterborne diseases. In fact, only 45 percent of people living in Haiti’s rural interior have access to potable water, meaning that over three million poor Haitians are drinking water that is harmful.

 

In the end, we didn’t learn this story from the children with bellies swollen from parasites (so much so that they propped their water jugs filled with dirty water on them for balance), or from the pregnant woman who had walked over an hour for water twice already when we met her. We learned the story of water when we walked with them—the children with swollen bellies and the pregnant woman—up steep terrain to the unprotected spring where they collect their drinking water.

We walked through the mud and around the trees and over the thorny bushes. And when the rains came, we kept on walking, until our faces were dripping and our clothes were soaked. And when the ground under our feet turned to water, and the floods started tiptoeing past our ankles and our calves and to our knees, we kept on walking. That is what poor Haitians must do when they are thirsty or when they are sick, to get to a spring or to a clinic, and so we walked.

As we walked, I couldn’t help but think about the hurricanes that hit Haiti last year—about how quickly those floodwaters tiptoed over bridges, carrying them away as if they were just twigs and mango peels stuck in the way. And as a rainstorm turned streams to rivers at our feet, I heard the story of water from the young children and weary women walking with us, but also from the water-logged footsteps of our donors, ZL's water engineers, and project managers, who are determined to make water—in raindrops and springs alike—a source of life rather than one of loss

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