Hurricane Matthew took a toll on the rural community of Wopisa-Gabriyèl when it struck Haiti in early October.
“There was a lot of damage to this community in the storm,” shared Previl Pierre, a local leader and community monitor in MCC’s environmental education program. “Many goats and cows died, and whole gardens were lost.”
Beyond the damage to animals and crops was the increased risk of cholera.
Wopisa-Gabriyèl is remote and sits wedged among several mountains in the Artibonite region, and the nearly 1,500 people that comprise it share a small creek that feeds into a larger river. In 2010, cholera, a bacterial disease that causes severe vomiting and diarrhea, was introduced to Haiti for the first time. It spread quickly throughout the country and hit the Artibonite hard.
Cholera is most often contracted when people consume water contaminated with cholera-infected human waste. In Wopisa-Gabriyèl, families have had no choice but to practice open defecation, dramatically increasing the risk of cholera exposure.
“When it rains, everything runs down into the water and contaminates the springs, our drinking water, our gardens, and our food,” said Roseline Pierre-Louis, a community health worker. She reported 10 new cases of cholera in the small community in the two months after Matthew struck.
Once contracted, cholera can kill quickly if treatment isn’t received, and reaching care is difficult for this remote community. “There is no road, so people must walk to the hospital on foot or be carried,” Roseline shared. To reach the nearest medical facility takes three hours on foot, and up to six hours if one is sick. Sometimes people have to be carried by others on makeshift stretchers.
The community has long known of a relatively low-cost solution to protect its water source and its health: the installation of latrines. Unfortunately, the materials to build latrines have remained too costly for community members.
After the hurricane, MCC approached the hard-hit area to discover how it might provide assistance. Because of risks owing to waterborne diseases including cholera, the community identified latrine construction as its most pressing need: “We can’t drink our water safely. We can’t care for our children. We can’t protect our families,” said Previl. They saw better sanitation as a necessary building block for further community development and recovery.
MCC has since partnered with the community to help build simple but solid latrines. MCC provides the block, cement, tin, and nails and a local expert builder to direct the construction, while community members transport the materials and form work groups to complete the labor. In total, the project will construct 250 latrines and cover 90% of the residents in the area.
The benefits of this project will extend beyond just Wopisa-Gabriyèl. “Because the community rests at the source of a spring, providing coverage for Wopisa also helps protect communities downstream that depend on the same body of water,” explained Paul Shetler Fast, the MCC Haiti co-representative.
The first latrine is nearly completed and needs only its exterior put in place. Desinord Petide, the latrine’s owner, is especially grateful. “There are seven people in my house who will all benefit from this toilet. I was proud to build this toilet,” he shared. “The first in the community!”
The latrine project is expected to be fully completed by May 2017, in time to benefit the community before the effects of the next rainy season.
Ted Oswald is the Policy Analyst and Advocacy Coordinator, and has shared the position with his wife Katharine since July 2014. From California, he continued his studies in forced migration studies in Cairo, Egypt and law in Philadelphia, PA. He is a licensed attorney and the author of the Libète Limyè Mysteries, a series of novels set in present-day Haiti. You can follow MCC Haiti Advocacy on Facebook and Twitter.