Haiti’s biggest industry just might be the disaster industry. Foreign aid from governments and individuals is the largest single source of money in the country. After a disaster a lot of money comes in and in between disasters we leave the forefront of people’s minds and funding drops off by at least 3/4, if not more. Furthermore, there is a lot of pressure from the people, governments and organizations donating the funds to spend the money rapidly and in a way that can be categorized as “relief”.
Of the two categories “relief” and “development”, Haiti needs development. What we really need is development to take place before the next disaster hits so that we are more able to survive the disaster and find the things we need immediately after the disaster is over.
The Biosand filter project is a perfect example of what I’m trying to communicate. The Biosand filter is very versatile and can filter water from virtually any source except for sea water. Before the Cholera epidemic hit in 2010, many people in the Artibonite valley already had Biosand filters and those drinking from the filter were far less likely to come down with the disease than those without it. Many lives were saved. What would have happened if we had filters in 50% or 70% of the homes in the Artibonite valley? Haiti would probably still have cases of cholera today but it would have spread more slowly and there might have been thousands of fewer deaths.
We have a way we implement filter installations that is very effective, but it is not conducive to disaster “boom and bust” style funding. We have a well trained work crew that works 40 hours a week, every week. We install, typically, 100-200 filters per month every month of the year. We follow up with the filters 1 month, 3 months and 12 months after the filters are installed and repair the filters as required in addition to providing follow-up education. Clean Water for Haiti runs a continuous project, continually installing and following up and continually improving.
What happens when there is no hurricane, earthquake, flood, epidemic or coup d’etat to put Haiti in the news? Well, it’s different for each organization but I can tell you specifically what it means for me as the director of Clean Water for Haiti. The biggest thing is that I manage our funds carefully. The rule of thumb is to have 6-12 months’ funding in the bank so that if donations dry up I can keep things running steadily. If we ever get to the point where funds dry up entirely and I have to lay off the work force, I risk losing the guys who have worked with us for over 10 years in some cases. 3/4 of the workers have been with us for over 5 years. If continuity is interrupted, I also run the risk of losing some of our community promoters. If our promoters have to stop taking orders for a period of months, it’s possible they may not want to work with us in the future. One of the great things about our program is that when the promoter has taken orders for a truck load of filters, we are typically there within 2-5 days to make our deliveries.
As of today, we are down to about 6 weeks’ operating budget in the bank. I am looking for work to do that requires a lot of labor but minimal expenditures in materials, fuel and maintenance so that we can keep busy. We’re making very few filters and I find it very frustrating. Every home in Haiti should have a Biosand filter! It has been since 2010 that Haiti had its last disaster and we’re at the very bottom of the boom and bust disaster funding cycle. Will you remember us even though we are between disasters? It would be a really good time.
Our favorite type of donations are steady ones. You can set up automatic monthly withdrawals either through Paypal in the US or Canada Helps in Canada if you go through our website.
You can also help us spread the word by sharing this blog post with a friend, and liking our Facebook Page – Clean Water for Haiti. Those two simple things will let others know about us and require no more than a little bit of work from your index finger.