(Part 2 in a series about the water crisis in Haiti)

… the water that goes into the cup…

It’s helpful to understand a little more about the country of Haiti to put the water situation into perspective… According to the United States Army Corps of Engineers (US ACOE), Haiti has an average annual rainfall of 55 inches. That amount is substantial, but it is also highly variable depending on where you are in the country. Variations in the geology and precipitation affect the availability of water in Haiti.

If we think of the water resources in Haiti in terms of Surface Water and Ground Water, and at the same time focus our discussion on the geographical area of Port-au-Prince (the largest population center in the country, and the area receiving the most damage from the earthquake), we find can define some specific water supply challenges in Haiti.

Surface water is perennially available in this geographical area from two major streams that originate in the mountains to the east of Port-au-Prince. The municipal water system in the city does not use any of the surface water for its supply as the water is heavily polluted near the city from human sewage, solid wastes and industrial chemical contamination. However, for much of the city’s population, the municipal system does not provide water (the municipal system only provides water for approximately 1/3 of the population). The only source of water for the remainder of the population is from the contaminated sources, including the two major streams, along with smaller streams, irrigation ditches, and the city’s storm water drains. This usage leads to increased risk for the people of developing malaria and Dengue fever, which are endemic to the area, and gastrointestinal diseases and food poisoning, with children and seniors being at the highest risk.

The subsurface geology in the area of Port-au-Prince is highly variable and, consequently, so is the availability of ground water as a resource. The surficial and near-surface soils and rock in the area consist of alluvial and carbonate deposits as well as sandstones and conglomerates. Some of the alluvial deposits also lie within an area affected by saltwater intrusion and are, therefore, not desirable for use as a water resource. Springs are also prevalent in the area south of the city. The main sources of water for the municipal system are from two well fields to the east of the city, and from a series of springs to the south. These sources are all facing major problems that are decreasing the quantity and quality of water entering the municipal system.

Water is obviously a precious resource that we can’t live without, imagine living in Haiti where clean drinking water is not a given like it is for most of us… what else is there in your life that you feel is absolutely necessary to live? Do you think the people of Haiti would answer this question in the same way?

Yep, I’m a hydrogeologist working in water resources development. Check it out!