I rise before the sun, grab my 5-gal jug and begin my walk to the water treatment trailer. I am just one of many hundreds of people who make the journey to this new watering spot every day for fresh drinking water for my family. In my community, it is not uncommon for there to be five to 10 children per household, whom this jug of water must sustain for the day. Who am I? I am a native of Grande-Saline, Haiti.
The Water Treatment Station
Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, where the inhabitants, one-third of whom are under 14 years old, struggle for the basic necessities of water, food and housing. In order to provide clean, safe drinking water to the residents of Grande-Saline, Pall Corp. teamed up with Dr. Jennifer Musa, biology professor for the State University of New York Broome Community College, who co-leads the Health for Haiti initiative.
Pall donated an Aria water filtration system. This membrane system treats 26 gal of Arbonite River water per minute, filtering out harmful bacteria and pathogens, including cholera and Giardia. Locals rely on the river as their only source of water for drinking, bathing and watering their animals. The river is contaminated with garbage and sewage, including human and animal waste. Before the treatment system was put in place, residents did not filter the river water in any way before consuming it.
Over the Fourth of July weekend in 2015, a team of volunteers from Health for Haiti visited Grande-Saline and its water treatment site. Upon arrival into Port-au-Prince, the nation’s capital, the team embarked on the four-hour trip to Grande-Saline. Jesse Campbell, chemical engineer for Pall, was part of that group, with a goal of continuing the training with the three drinking water system operators that was initiated in January 2015.
Day in the Life
A normal day for the operators consists of arriving at the water treatment site between 9 and 10 a.m. Each day, the feed supply line must be taken out of the container and placed in the source water, which is approximately 50 ft from the membrane filtration system. Next, the operators place the pumps and generators, which weigh approximately 150 lb each, in their proper spots in order to start up the water system. Power lines are present, but they are not active and do not supply the energy needed for pumping water, so generators are a necessity.
The operators take great pride in their jobs and maintain the area around the water system by sweeping the dirt with homemade brooms. They are paid a salary of $150 per month, which is funded by donations to Health for Haiti. It is common to see the operators teaching their local “customers” the proper way to clean their water containers by scrubbing them with a chlorinated solution before filling them with fresh drinking water for consumption. “Even though you pay me, it is for the best of my town and I am very proud to be in the staff to serve,” said Duckens, one of the operators.
The temperature in July reaches 102°F during the day, with the nighttime temperature not far from the daytime high. Before closing the doors on the mobile water system, the operators first must remove all of the 50 ft of piping and manually collect the pumps and generators and place them in the container. In the morning, the operators repeat this cycle.
Repairs & Education
When the volunteer team arrived at the site in July, it found approximately 4 to 5 in. of mud in the system’s feed tank, along with sand in the air and feed line, which created a temporary setback. In order to prevent this from happening in the future, the intake structure was modified and the operators were taught the proper steps for keeping heavy solids and debris from entering the system.
Once the heavy solids were removed, the training continued with the procedures for handling chemicals, the steps for cleaning in place and becoming familiarized with the touch-screen panel. The team established a remote connection to the Pall home office, where employees are able to monitor the system. During this process, the language barrier occasionally created difficulties, and the volunteers tried not to consume their provisions in front of anyone, because many of the people at the water facility do not know where their next meal will come from.
The Food-Water Nexus
Approximately a half mile down the path from the water treatment system is a church that also serves as a makeshift school. This is where children take computer classes four to five days a week, using some of the 35 laptops Pall donated to Heath for Haiti. Even during the summer, the students attend extra classes from
8 a.m. to 12 p.m.
The students’ enthusiasm motivated their teacher to do something special for them one day. He decided to prepare them a special treat, so he went out and purchased rice, beans, oil, canned fish for flavoring and enough fruit juice for each child to have one cup. Local women prepared a special meal for the students and helped serve the excited and hungry children.
Health for Haiti recognizes the need for a consistent food supply, but the monthly cost of $1,000 for the gas to run the generators for the water treatment system leaves little room for providing meals. This spurred the next initiative in Grande-Saline: establishing a community garden. A garden is possible now because of the clean water supplied by the membrane system. There are still hurdles to overcome before the garden becomes reality, however, such as the logistics of getting the water to the garden.
Although much has been accomplished, the Health for Haiti team sees this as only the beginning. Further life-improving initiatives, such as the community garden, are now possible in Grande-Saline because of the existence of clean water. The task of building the community’s first bathroom also is being put into motion. This is coupled with the creation of a hand-washing station to provide for personal hygiene.
At the end of the visit, when the training was complete, the team left confident that the water treatment operators will continue to maintain the life-improving, safe source of drinking water for the 1,000 community members of Grande-Saline—a community that is looking forward to a brighter future.