Haiti and Water Poverty

Access to clean water means different things in different countries. In the United States, access means entering the kitchen for a glass of water. In Haiti, there is often a long road to the nearest potable source, and then you have to carry the water home. Image by Jason Hayes. Haiti, 2012

In rural locations where water treatment and chlorination are powered by diesel, pumps generally run a few hours a day to conserve fuel. To get water, Haitians must be at the pump at the right time or use their buckets as placeholders — as seen here. Image by Jason Hayes. Haiti, 2012.

Some sources of treated water are provided by non-profits, but when the organizations withdraw their services the water stops flowing. This pump was abandoned because no one could pay for fuel. It once serviced an entire village. Image by Jason Hayes. Haiti, 2012.

An abandoned water system is visible through the window of the nearby church. Image by Jason Hayes. Haiti, 2012.

The Haitian Ministry of Water and Sanitation, called DINEPA, provides treated water for a fee. It costs only a few cents, but some who cannot afford it steal water by reaching in the barred window to turn on the faucets. Image by Jason Hayes. Haiti, 2012.

Washing buckets and bowls used for water and food is important to stymie diarrheal diseases, but chlorine and soap cost money that some do not have. Image by Jason Hayes. Haiti, 2012.

Government and non-government organizations used to pass out free soap for hand washing. As funding failed, the burden of cost returned to Haitian citizens. Image by Jason Hayes. Haiti, 2012.

In the Artibonite Valley, the high alluvial water table makes it difficult to dig latrine pits. This failed latrine project means that the family must still defecate in the neighboring field, which can contaminate the water supply of the entire town. Image by Jason Hayes. Haiti, 2012.

Pit wells are susceptible to contamination and many sit unused in rural Haiti. People are now afraid that they contain cholera. Image by Jason Hayes. Haiti, 2012.

Water bags are a cheap way to have a quick drink. But Haitians can get sick drinking from them. Many put their mouths on the plastic where others had their hands. Image by Jason Hayes. Haiti, 2012.

"Water poverty" is a term used by the United Nations and many others as a metric of water quality, access, and ecology—a synthesis of data ranging from the availability of clean water and sanitation to the Gini coefficient (a measure of income distribution). Conceptually, Water poverty is both academically rigorous and anthropomorphically mystifying. The goal is to incorporate and weigh every facet that influences where water comes from, what happens to it, and how easy it is for a person to get. However, in countries renowned for high water poverty, such as Haiti, this metric may feel like sitting on an ocean of numbers with nothing to drink.

In the rural villages and urban neighborhoods of Haiti, every obstacle, large and small, standing between a person and clean water represents the human definition of water poverty. Much like financial poverty, it is always present—something that must be considered and planned for at all times. The obstacles exist day in, and day out.

After cholera erupted in Haiti, access to clean water carried renewed significance. Water sources families used for years became sources of fear and uncertainty. This slideshow depicts what water poverty means, at least in part, to Haitians across the country.