Sharing water, the gift of life, in Haiti

Published: 6 December 2016 22:22 CET

By Kate Roux


Following the devastation of Haiti after Hurricane Matthew in October 2016, the Dominican Red Cross mobilized 29 of its staff with 3 water trucks and 5 water treatment plants.  For four weeks they worked across the border in Haiti, distributing more than 700,000 liters of clean water to communities affected by the hurricane.


“When the hurricane hit, we knew that clean water would be critical for the Haitian people and that the capacity of the Haiti Red Cross would be surpassed,” explains Gustavo Lara, executive director of the Dominican Red Cross.  “We already have 29 water purification plants ready to be sent across the border, and teams trained on how to use them, and who also know how to teach communities good hygiene practices.”


The water that the Dominicans are providing makes all the difference to Haitians who have been impacted by Hurricane Matthew. Clean, reliable sources of water reduce the spread of cholera and other water-borne illnesses, and it makes it possible to do everyday tasks like cooking, cleaning and washing.


Dominicans also understand the local context in Haiti. The journey from the capital of Santo Domingo to Port-au-Prince is only 6 hours by road, across the island of Hispaniola, and in 2004 both countries were severely affected by devastating floods. From 2004 to 2007 the European Union provided funding for the emergency response, focusing specifically on water and sanitation. Several water emergency response units were deployed to the Dominican Republic and Haiti, assisting thousands of people.


Following the floods operation in 2007, the International Federation and the Spanish Red Cross received funding from the European Union to refurbish and adapt the emergency water units into locally sustainable water units run by technical support teams. They were stationed in the Dominican Republic, in order to build local capacity for emergency response in the future. As a result of this investment, when Hurricane Matthew struck Haiti, everything was ready for deployment.      


Jose Dipre is a technical expert in water and sanitation with the Dominican Red Cross. He is leading the team who has been operating on the ground in Haiti since 12 October. “In Les Cayes we have been working with the regional committee. It was a big moment for us when we purified the first 3,000 liters of water,” he explains. “We have worked hard to make this happen.  The local Red Cross staff here now understand how to carry this forward, without our assistance,” he says.


Jose and his team, along with the Spanish Red Cross, are producing enough water to assist around 2,244 families or 11,220 people in Camp-Perrin and Anse d’Hainault. The rain often makes it difficult for the trucks to distribute the water in certain areas, but they have still managed to reach places that are extremely remote and in desperate need of help, such as Les Irois and Anse d’Hainault.


In 2015 the Dominican Red Cross and the Haiti Red Cross signed a bilateral cooperation agreement. The cooperation agreement gives way for both Red Cross national societies to continue sharing their mutual expertise, so gaps during the response to a disaster such as Matthew can be met efficiently and effectively.


“The investments in local resources as we have seen between mutual support of both Red Cross national societies in the Dominican Republic and Haiti can make a tremendous difference in the long-term,” explains Ines Brill, head of IFRC Country Cluster for Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Cuba. “This is the kind of model for humanitarian response to emergencies that we discussed at the World Humanitarian Summit earlier this year, and seeing its success here today, the International Federation is going to continue to push this agenda in years to come.”