Reflections on Haiti

by |April 21, 2010

Earlier this month, I was lucky enough to travel to Haiti to install a weather monitoring station, as well as conduct streamflow measurements and water quality assessments with Water Center employee Lior Asaf.  Traveling to Haiti gave me my first exposure to how water and climate issues are affecting poor and developing countries, as well as how the earthquake is affecting water in Haiti. The situation in Haiti shows how much there still is to be done, but also how much potential there is to help solve the water issues.

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Haiti is actually nothing like I had envisioned. I don’t actually know what it is that I had envisioned, but nothing prepared me to see the rolling green mountains and the crystal clear blue water. It is hot – I’m talking 95 degrees Fahrenheit and humid in mid-April! There is also a large amount of rain during the wet seasons – while we were there, it rained several times, and in a period of about an hour, we observed about an inch of rain.

One of the saddest things to witness in Haiti is the large garbage and rubble issue in Port-au-Prince. Following the earthquake, they have obviously been unable to even begin to make a dent in the amount of rubble that needs to be removed, and the rubble that is beginning to be cleared has nowhere to go other than big piles just outside the city. The facilities simply are not available to deal with that amount of trash, and it leads to pile ups in the drainage system of the city. This garbage will be washed out to sea when the wet season comes, leading to large amounts of pollution and danger to sea life.

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However, even with all these issues, there was a motivation to work in Haiti that amazed me. Sometimes when not-for-profits come to do work in a poor country, the people just want the NGO to do the work. However, this was not the case in Haiti. Several times we were asked by the people what they could do. For example, a town that was close to an eroding river bed asked for advice on how to build a wall to protect the town. They didn’t ask us to do it – just wanted the knowledge. Similarly, we spoke with people about how the chopping down of trees is leading to erosion, and they had no idea. They were thirsty for knowledge that could benefit their country – they simply didn’t have the knowledge available.

Haiti has so much potential, and I hope that in the future it can recover from the earthquake and pull itself out of poverty.  They cannot do it alone, and I know I will continue being involved with the development of this beautiful country.

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Meghna Bhattacharjee
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Meghna Bhattacharjee

It’s great to hear about field experience that the Columbia Water Center is currently involved with. While edifying blogs are always interesting, I’m glad you are giving some personal perspective on your student initiative.