Water quality as well as access worsened in December as free water distribution service was discontinued and NGOs continued shifting their operations out of IDP camps, according to a water assessment by DINEPA, the Haitian government's water and sanitation authority. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that:
The decline in water quality coincides with the end of free water distributions in camps through water trucking, in accordance with the national strategy developed by DINEPA. Only three per cent of households in camps are now receiving water provided by an NGO.
The DINEPA assessment found that “47% of the water tests conducted in households are of poor quality, compared to 29% in early December,” and that “[o]nly 55 per cent of households in camps drink chlorinated water.” This probably results in part from DINEPA’s finding that “Only three per cent of households in camps are now receiving water provided by an NGO.” A third of all camp residents’ primary access to water is from a remote source, far from their camp. According to DINEPA, nearly 40 percent of these remote sources are non-chlorinated.
Free water distribution was supposed to come to an end in December 2010, however, as the cholera epidemic had just begun at that time, the program was extended. Although trucks were able to deliver free water to the camps, this did little to reinforce the work of DINEPA or to create sustainable access to quality water in the camps and neighborhoods. As the free water distribution came to a close, there was no effective alternative in place and DINEPA, which receives very little support from the national government, has been unable to fill in the gaps.
According to the WASH cluster, part of the decrease in water quality “can be attributed to low water chlorination activities conducted by the 82 water management committees.” These committees “have been established by NGOs as part of their exit strategy from the free water distribution system.” Indeed many of the largest NGOs discussed this change in policy in their two-year progress reports. Catholic Relief Services, which has spent nearly $12 million on water and sanitation, noted that (PDF), “In the past year, CRS has transitioned water activities out of camps and into neighborhoods, where your gift helps families resettle and rebuild.”
The American Red Cross, which has spent over $45 million on water and sanitation activities (with rather mixed results), reported that (PDF) they are “now working with local authorities on long-term solutions for ensuring safe, clean water in the communities that people are returning to.” Oxfam, which has spent over $30 million in this sector, also “began phasing out direct activities in the camps, and by the end of 2011 activities had ceased in all but two camps.” Oxfam also touts the water committees, which thus far have been unable to fill the gap created by NGOs pulling out, noting that “[t]he Water Committees now work directly with DINEPA and CAMEP – Port-au-Prince’s two main water authorities – to ensure that the water, sanitation and public health activities, previously carried out by Oxfam, are maintained.”
Although efforts to build sustainable water solutions are clearly needed, after two years of un-sustainable policies in the camps, the result is that – for over 500,000 people still living in camps – access to clean water has deteriorated greatly. Tens of millions of dollars have been spent by NGOs on the provision of water to camp dwellers, but very little of this money has been channeled toward durable solutions. The strategy seems to be predicated on the idea that IDPs are remaining in the camps on their own volition and that many IDPs are now moving back into their old neighborhoods. As CARE, which has spent $7 million on water and sanitation activities, stated in their two-year report (PDF):
Efforts are underway by CARE and other aid agencies to shift the provision of services to neighborhoods in order to minimize the incentive to remain in the camps.
Such methods form part of the “push” strategy that, along with forced evictions, have resulted in hundreds of thousands of people leaving camps even when they have nowhere else to go – a “success” touted by the State Department , Haitian government, and others.
However, as services in the camps are stopped and high profile projects to move people out of the camps begin, the fact is that the camp population has remained remarkably stable over the last two months. The most recent OCHA report states:
Haitians left homeless by the 12 January earthquake continue to leave IDP camps. From 519,164 last November, the number of IDP went down to 515, 819 as of January, confirming a bi-monthly rate of decline of 6%, according to IOM latest Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM). This slight decrease is one of the slowest observed since IDPs have started to leave the camps in September 2010 and confirms that the exit rate from camps continues to slow down.
The decrease of just 3,345 people over two months is actually a 0.6 percent rate of decline, not 6 percent, as OCHA states, however the overall point is clear: for the vast majority of camp residents, better alternatives are not available. While it is good that NGOs and the Haitian government are finally focusing on building sustainable solutions for the provision of clean water, they should do so without abandoning the over 500,000 people that remain in camps.