Haiti: water for the homeless

Friday, February 26, 2010

By Emily Sollie

Haiti water storyPierrette Joseph Wesner and Saint Philippe Kesly start their day before the sun comes up. They have an important job to do. They are water truck drivers. Lots of people depend on them.

Wesner drives the water for Viva Rio, a local partner organization of ACT Alliance member Norwegian Church Aid. He and Kesly, his assistant, make up to seven runs a day, filling their tank at a water point that pumps in well water, and then delivering it to camps throughout the city.

Water for thousands

Viva Rio manages five water trucks that transport approximately 180,000 liters of water per day, providing clean drinking water to thousands of people who were displaced by the January 12 earthquake.

Starting at about 6:00 a.m., Wesner and Kesly make their first run. At the water station, they line up and await their turn to fill the truck’s tank with clean water. The sound is deafening – dozens of diesel trucks idling as they wait their turn at the taps; water rushing from overhead pipes into the cavernous tanks of the trucks below.  When his turn arrives, Wesner deftly maneuvers the cumbersome vehicle, lining it up perfectly under the rushing water source.

The truck filled, it’s on to the camps. Some of the camps ACT serves are large and well-established, others small spontaneous settlements. The need for water exists everywhere.

Can’t wait

Arriving for the first delivery of the day, at Kay Nou camp in the Bel Air neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, one of the city’s most impoverished areas, the truck pulls up and Wesner and Kesly jump out and get to work. They move quickly – both because they know how desperately the water is needed, and because they have other deliveries to make. Two 10,000 liter bladder tanks lie atop an abandoned building at the edge of the camp, and the truck pumps water up into the bladders.

Below on the ground, people collect the water from a system of taps connected to the bladder. When they see the Viva Rio truck arriving, people begin to gather at the taps, bringing buckets, bowls and bottles to fill. The Kay Nou camp houses about 1,600 people in a sea of white tents. Before the earthquake, it was a Viva Rio-run community center; now it is home to many who have nowhere else to go.

“People need the water so much,” Kesly says. “Sometimes we don’t even get to fill the bladder, people just come and get water right from the truck.”

The delivery made, the two men get back in the truck and return to the water station to do it all over again. They will work until the sun goes down, and they haven’t had a day off since the earthquake – but they don’t mind. “It feels good to do this work, because Viva Rio provides a good service,” Kesly says. “We have jobs, we get paid, and we’re helping people.”

Clean water keeps you healthy. Jonathan Ernst followed the water truck drivers in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Watch the slideshow of events unfolding.

Haiti: after the earthquake