Five Years for Drop of Water


Five Years for Drop of Water. Haiti Grassroots Watch, Port-au-Prince, 4 November 2011 – Two-and-a-half million dollars (US$2.5 million) to supply water to several marginal neighborhoods in the capital. Approved in 2006. But, five years later, the water isn’t running yet. Children are still in the streets bearing bottles and buckets.

The project is almost finished. “The end of October,” according to the funder. But not yet.

Why? And why five years? Haiti Grassroots Watch (HGW) and the students at the State University’s Faculty of Human Sciences investigated.

Unavoidable liquid, inescapable burden

There’s a new reservoir, pipes, and over a dozen water fountains, but the people who live in the poor neighborhoods of Debussy and Upper Turgeau still have to walk for long hours to obtain this live-saving resource. During their daily pilgrimage, the adults and children – who are sometimes only five or six years old –  pass by the dry water kiosks.

Tercy, a university student, lives in Georges City, one of the miserable and informal neighborhoods of Turgeau. He shares a little cement block hut with his sister. Among his other daily activities, Tercy (who didn’t want to reveal his last name), said he has to get up very early to get water before going down to the faculty.

“I leave home at 5:35 am to get two gallons of water. Now its almost 7 am,” he continued, wiping the sweat from his face. Only after the long trek can he bathe and prepare to go to the classroom.

Emmanuel Lima, carrying a full bucket on his head, relayed the same comments. Alluding to the unfinished water project, he said that “it will be a good opportunity for the neighborhood, but they are taking too long to finish it.”

“In this country, those in power are too negligent. They don’t take care of the really important thing. Everyone just wants to get rich,” the 42-year-old said indignantly.

Lima and Tercy are among the two-thirds of the capital region’s population that has to get their water in buckets, according to 2002 data from the Haitian Institute of Statistics and data processing.

The European Union’s gift of water

In 2006, the European Union (EU) gave the green light to a water project for Debussy and Turgeau, neighborhoods populated by about 25,000 people jammed into huts, many of them on dangerous slopes.

The project’s principal elements:

• A new reservoir in the Debussy hills

• A connection between the new reservoir and the Upper Turgeau reservoir

• A pump for the Upper Turgeau reservoir

• 19 water kiosks in various neighborhoods

• Pipes linking the new reservoir to the fountains

The supervision of the project’s execution was overseen by the following three entities:

The state – The Autonomous Central Metropolitan Water Authority (Centrale Autonome Métropolitaine d’Eau Potable – CAMEP), today called the National Direction of Drinking Water and Sanitation (Direction Nationale de l’Eau Potable et de l’Assainissement – DINEPA)

The EU – The Technical Unit for Rehabilitation Programs (L’Unité Technique des Programmes  de Réhabilitation – UTPR),

A French “non-governmental organization” (NGO), the Group for Research and Exchange of Technologies (Groupe de Recherche et d’Echanges Technologiques – GRET), which has worked in the area of water in Haiti since 1995.

According to Benoist Bazin, head of the EU’s Infrastructure Section in Haiti, the total cost of the project was about 100 million gourdes or about US$2.5 million. One-quarter, about 25 million gourdes (US$625,000) was spent on the new reservoir and 75 million went for the rehabilitation of the water system by two private companies, and for « social accompaniment » carried out by GRET.

Maxo Saintil, a professor living in the Upper Turgeau area, was among the group of people who, over five years ago, asked the government of put in a water system in order to assuage people’s misery over five years ago.

In 2006, he was happy to hear the project had been approved.

“The completion of the project will be a victory for us, the initiators, and it will benefit the population who will benefit from its service,” he told HGW.

But between the approval and the beginning of work, three years went by.

“The project only started in January, 2009,” Saintil remembered.

And 34 months later, the project is still not complete. There are many reasons… and an examination of them will allow the reader not only to learn the “why” but also to learn how “development aid” sometimes works in Haiti.

Studies stumbling blocks

At the beginning, CAMEP, the state organism asking for financial assistance, hadn’t done a study that was well focused nor was it sufficiently in-depth.

According to Robenson Jonas, Léger, coordinator of the EU’s UTPR, the CAMEP report was “incomplete.”

“We had to order a complete reservoir study,” Léger wrote to HGW in an email.

The first study recommended a 1,200 cubic meter reservoir. That study, and a geotechnical study cost 246,093.63 gourdes or US$6,152.34.

According to Léger, CAMEP approved the study but at the moment work was about to begin, supervisors expressed certain worries, since the study didn’t account for a possible earthquake. The proposed reservoir was to be elevated above the ground, on supports.

“This was in 2007, and this was a good anticipation of the January 12, 2010, earthquake,” Léger noted.

The second study cost 343,440 gourdes (US$8,586) and was finished on March 19, 2008, two years after the project was originally approved. The second study called for a reduction in the reservoir’s size, from 1,200 to 900 cubic meters, “in order to stay within the limits of the available budget,” according to Léger. The study recommended a reservoir that sat on the ground, which is more expensive.

The TECINA company signed the contract for design and construction, for 24,073,324.22 gourdes (US$601,833), or about one-quarter of the total budget. But work didn’t begin immediately.

“The work started one year after the signature of contracts,” social worker (and now director) Jean Ledu Annacacis of GRET remembered. If he remembers well, in March 2009.

Six months later, in December 2009 according to Léger, the work was almost finished. But not yet.

The water still wasn’t flowing.

Disbursement Delays

According to all the actors, there was also a delay in the disbursement of funds which postponed the completion of the project.

Engineer Raphael Hosty, director of the West Department’s office of DINEPA, the state agency that replaced CAMEP, told HGW that the project was slated to take 18 months overall. And that even the necessity of two studies should not have delayed the project so much. According to Hosty, TECINA and the other companies stopped working in December, 2009, because the payments stopped flowing.

Chandler Hypolite, a field agent for GRET, said the neighborhood committees – responsible for managing the water kiosks – were ready to start by the end of December, also.

But the work stopped.

“The companies working on the project stopped receiving money,” he said. “They refused to work… the project came to a halt before the January 12, 2010, earthquake.”

GRET’s Annacacis told the same story.

“I know that [the companies] didn’t get the money they needed to complete the work,” he remembered.

“There was no problem of financing,” the UTPR’s Léger told HGW. “There was perhaps a delay in payment… because in the meantime, we were changing the computer system, which slowed down some of our casework.”

And then – the January 12, 2010, earthquake. Another delay. Not in terms of damage, but because after the disaster the EU had – legitimately – other priorities for many months.

Customs Delays

In addition to the disbursement delays, the Haitian customs office is partly responsible for the slow progress of the project, according to many of the actors, who noted that material was blocked for months.

Not surprisingly, since Haiti’s port and customs offices are world famous for their inefficiency and corruption.

A study by the World Bank cited by the Miami Herald showed that Haiti’s port costs businesspeople and importers twice what they pay in the Dominican Republic, and that getting material out of customs can take three times as long.

Cited in the same article, published in July, 2010, Hughes Desgranges, a senior advisor to the National Port Authority, admitted that the port is more of a “social program” than a “commercial program” because of the salaries paid to “ghost” employees or employees who weren’t necessary.

“You have a port that can be the engine of the Haitian economy, but it’s been badly steered,” he said.

Everyone participating in the water project criticized customs, like Hypolite, who criticized: “the pumps were blocked.”

Project almost finished, but the water’s still not flowing

Finally, almost two years later, the work is almost finished, but progress has been very slow. Workers don’t come every day and the end date of October 31 was missed. (However, there are indications that the water will start to flow within the coming weeks.)

“The delays in connecting the reservoir with the pipe network weren’t small,” the EU’s Bazin admitted in an interview with HGW on September 27, 2011. “Today the situation is this – the firm need to install the valves on the back of the reservoir that will assure it fills and functions normally.”

Bazin’s frustration was clear.

“When things go well, they never say its because the EU did everything possible to make it work,” Bazin said with an ironic tone. “The same way, one shouldn’t blame the EU [only] when things go badly.”

The reasons for things “going badly” are many – delays in disbursements, at customs, and the two studies.

But could it also be because of the multiplicity of actors? Several government agencies, of the EU, an NGO and three private firms…

And why was three-quarters of the budget (75 million gourdes or about US$1.875 million) used for the “rehabilitation of networks” and “social accompaniment?” Why were the budgets adjusted after the second study so that a 1,200 meter-cubed reservoir could still be constructed?

HGW could not look into all aspects of this complex project, but it’s probable that the blame does not rest with merely one or another actor. While the percentages of the blame are not known, several things are certain. There is a new reservoir, but with one-third less capacity than initially planned. There are kiosks. And pipes.

But the implementation of a good solution to a daily challenge for 25,000 people has taken more than five years instead of 18 months, and it has a reduced capacity for what is probably a larger population.

Nadège Thermilus, a young unemployed 22-year-old woman, has big hopes. Like her friends at her side, she’s on her way to draw water at a place they call “in the mountains,” perhaps about two hours away, round-trip.

Before heading back up to “in the mountains,” she says: “I hope the water comes, because I’ve lived too much misery going to get it.”

Students from the Journalism Laboratory at the State University of Haiti collaborated on this series.

Haiti Grassroots Watch is a partnership of AlterPresse, the Society of the Animation of Social Communication (SAKS), the Network of Women Community Radio Broadcasters (REFRAKA) and community radio stations from the Association of Haitian Community Media.

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