09/08/2011 05:05 pm ET | Updated Nov 08, 2011

Clean Water in the Face of Cholera

Readers following this blog the last few months (A Year in Haiti, Taking the First Steps Toward Progress, Constructing a Safer Haiti) know of the daily challenges I have outlined during my time in Haiti. But clean water -- needed for daily essentials, to prevent cholera, and to help prepare for hurricane season -- remains one of the core hurdles we have faced during our time on the ground.

In a country where cholera has gained a foothold, it's essential to provide for clean water within each construction project, and it's especially important to do so in crowded urban areas where traditional water sources are polluted.

Housing sprawl into watershed collection areas along with unmanaged waste and slum development has polluted many underground water supplies. The earthquake also shifted aquifer locations so that wells -- which had supplied water for many years -- are now dry. And this is not just a problem on construction sites, some schools can no longer supply clean drinking water and require kids to bring their own - an additional hardship when many find it difficult to pay for tuition.

Rainwater collection is a common practice in Haiti, the Port-au-Prince area alone receives more than 135 cm (53 in) of water per year throughout two separate rainy seasons. So with our on-the-ground team, we have incorporated its collection into our projects -- particularly our school projects to aid the difficulty posed by asking students to bring their own. Just how much water can we collect? Consider that just a square meter of roof will yield about 300 liters (72 gals) of water. With this in mind, our team has created a system in which we collect water from all of the buildings on which we work, where it is then stored in tanks or underground cisterns. We partner with International Action/Haiti Water to treat the water as it enters the cisterns to be sure it is clean and safe for drinking. The volume is plenty to provide for the schools' needs and can even serve as an income resource for the institution, which can then be sold to the surrounding community between the rainy seasons and in times of drought.


Photo/Stacey McMahan: This 200 gallon tank is usually mounted on a rooftop or, for easier access, on a platform near the ground.

It's a small step to solving a larger problem -- but a step in the right direction. Clean drinking water is an integral part of recovery, which will be ongoing in Haiti for decades. Properly implementing access to clean drinking water and education on safe structures are just the first steps down the long path to recovery and we are working to ensure each of our projects is part of a longer term solution. Luckily, we are helping to find remedies and will continue to think of the best ways to move forward.

As always, track our progress down on the ground at The Haiti Rebuilding Center or AIA for Haiti.