THE WATER SYSTEM
Haiti's tragic history, beginning in colonialism and spanning decades of political unrest, violence and government corruption, has left the country without a functioning infrastructure. The system for providing water is no exception. The absence of management, regulations and funding has crippled the two government-owned water services, leaving the country's water resources polluted and severely depleted.
A fundamental problem is that there is no water ministry. The responsibilities for ensuring delivery of safe water are spread throughout government agencies, including agriculture, public works and public health. "It is very difficult to control because there are so many people involved and nobody is in control exactly," said Benoit Frantz, the general secretary of Centrale Autonome Metropolitaine d'Eau Potable (CAMEP).
CAMEP is responsible for providing water in the Port-au-Prince
metropolitan area, whereas Service National d'Eau Potable (SNEP)
is supposed to provide water nationally. But neither agency
has been able to maintain or update their equipment and water
lines, adapt to changes in population, or respond to the country's
environmental crisis. Estimates on the percentage of metropolitan
Port-au-Prince that is being serviced by CAMEP vary from 20
percent to 30 percent. However, these figures are difficult
to quantify because CAMEP's service is intermittent, their metering
system is inconstant, and people often break their pipes and
steal the water to sell for a profit. When I traveled north
to the city of Cap-Ha´tien, any mention of SNEP brought a snort
and a rolling of eyes from local residents. According to the
Haitian Institute for Statistics and Information, SNEP is only
servicing 16 percent to 24 percent of the population.
A proposal to create a Ministry of Water and Environment has been circulating since 1997. Now it awaits a government. But even after the water is under the control of a central ministry, the state will have to come up with millions of dollars to build an infrastructure. The cost of the restoration of CAMEP alone is estimated at $100 million. Former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide vetoed proposals for privatization of the system, but many experts support such a move. Although some worry that privatization of the system will mean increased water prices, others feel that it is the only way to secure the level of funding needed. "We're telling people there is no water and the demand is increasing. So what we'll be able to do [with privatization] is put potable water at people's disposition right now," said economist Gerald Jean-Baptiste. Director of CAMEP from 1994 to 2002, Jean-Baptiste now owns his own hydro-geology engineering company.
How the water infrastructure will grow and change remains to be seen, but with one of the world's highest infant mortality rates, in large part because of dirty water, a rapidly degenerating environment, and people spending more and more time and money trying to access potable water, Haiti has little time to waste.