Working for Plan International in Haiti, I spend a lot of time thinking about water and the efforts people go through to get it here. For people lucky enough to have livelihoods and live in houses, water trucks play jingles like ice cream trucks do in other parts of the world to announce their presence. Water tanks get filled up. The trucks move on to other neighborhoods. That’s the easy but costly way of getting running water in Haiti.
For the 800,000 or so people still living in camps more than a year after the earthquake, water is delivered from trucks too—and for free. But now, the charitable funds for trucked-in water have mostly run out, so that option is going away. The people living in camps—like most people without means in Haiti—will now have to rely on 1. either getting enough money to buy water from a vendor (“Eau Miracle” seems to be the most popular), or 2. finding the nearest community water well with a manual pump (a borehole).
Last week I went to the Croix-des-Bouquets district—which is a short distance in kilometers to the west of Port-au-Prince, but a long way away in traffic—with three of Plan Haiti’s water and sanitation experts who were checking on the output of some of our boreholes. I learned that 80% of the boreholes in the district were built by Plan Haiti—in the years before the earthquake hit. At a borehole in the commune of Lilavois, we stopped, and encountered a girl, about 14 years of age, who we watched pump water, effortlessly using the strength of her legs and bare feet, into her large plastic bucket.
Girls in Haiti—like millions of girls in developing countries—are more likely to get the water chore. Girls in Haiti, also like many of their counterparts in the world, are taught the art of carrying heavy cargo atop their heads—and 40 pounds of water is one of them. Last week, I asked some Haitian women I know what it’s really like to carry all of that weight—because the girls and women I’ve seen along the roads always make it look so easy. They groaned and said that it was terribly painful, but that there was no other choice.
When I think about water, I wish that all the girls of the world could have running water inside their homes, or at least nearby, so that they could stay inside, hit the books and become the doctors, teachers and police officers they dream of becoming when they grow up. But for now, they continue to leave their schoolwork behind, put themselves at higher risk of sexual attack, and physically wear themselves out for the water their mothers need to boil rice.
Indoor plumbing for the masses in Haiti is a long way away, but for now, I’ll keep my hopes up for more boreholes in the communities. They only take two weeks to install, and the more that are built, the closer they will be to each girl who holds inside her mind the key to a better Haiti.
Read more about Plan's work in Haiti