After a devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake shook the small country of Haiti on January 12, 2010, over three million people were left without access to safe drinking water. This natural disaster could not have hit a more vulnerable place as Haiti had the unenviable distinction of having the weakest water structure in the western hemisphere prior to the earthquake.
There are two main issues surrounding water supply shortages in Haiti: quantity and quality. While in many areas of Haiti, there are adequate sources available to meet water quantity needs, the country's poverty level not only impedes the ability to construct a system that would allow for the development and maintenance of these water supplies, but also the ability to purchase a means to cleanse any contaminated water. Sewer and wastewater treatment systems are simply non-existent in many areas leaving 1 out of every 3 people with no access to safe drinking water due to biological contamination in many of the surrounding streams and aquifers from both human and industrial waste and agricultural runoff. According to the Pan American Health Organization, more than half of all recorded deaths in Haiti were linked primarily to waterborne diseases.
A design engineer for U.S. Water’s Engineering & Equipment team partnered with Kevin McClellan, a self-employed Minneapolis businessman, and brought the dire water quality situation in Haiti to the attention of Allan Bly, owner of U.S. Water Services, Inc a Minnesota based water treatment company. After discussing the best immediate and long term options available, the plan was to provide a reverse osmosis (RO) unit to the Lamp for Haiti clinic located in Cite Soleil, a large slum neighborhood situated alongside the ocean on the outskirts of the city of Port-au-Prince.
Lamp for Haiti is a non profit organization founded in 2006 by Thomas Griffin, Esq. and James Morgan, MD. The organization provides basic health care, educational and humanitarian aid and advocates for the protection of basic human rights. Lamp for Haiti provides a free medical clinic and urgent care services near Cite Soleil which are operated by a full Haitian staff consisting of one full time doctor, another doctor assisting him, two nurses, a clinic manager, a triage worker and a mid-wife. The hospital treats 75-100 patients daily, more than half of which are cases caused by waterborne related illnesses due to contaminated drinking water. The RO unit will be provided near the Lamp for Haiti clinic in an effort to provide safe drinking water to the Cite Soleil residents, especially those seeking medical care at the Lamp for Haiti clinic.
At the present time, the groundwater in the vicinity of Cite Soleil is severely contaminated not only by human and agricultural waste, but also salt from seawater intrusion due to its close proximity to the ocean. A RO unit is optimal for these types of conditions as it is can be used to remove salt from water. Clean water passes through the system while the RO concentrate containing the removed salt is discharged to a canal that eventually feeds back into the ocean. The discharge from this RO unit could be used as flushing water in a future sanitation system.
The Global Ethanol plant in Riga, Michigan, which on October 22, 2010 became a part of Green Plains Renewable Energy Inc, donated an existing RO unit to the project. The $132,000 unit needed some repairs, but was otherwise functional. Once the RO arrived at U.S. Water's St. Michael equipment production facility in early September, the U.S. Water team took charge of the project providing engineering drawings for the water treatment system the site would need, as well as all parts and labor required to refurbish the unit.
The RO initially had a total production capacity of 100gpm of safe drinking water. With the help of Wes Byrne, reverse osmosis specialist for U.S. Water, the company was able to re-design the unit to run around 50gpm, which will help keep the cost of operations and materials to a minimum while near the Cite Soleil location. This will still provide an average of 6,000 gallons of safe drinking water to the community for every two hours of operation. In addition to the retro-fitting and repairs, U.S. Water also provided training of the RO's operation and maintenance to Kevin McClellan, who would be the sole person responsible for transporting and installing the system. Mr. McClellan will also be responsible for training the Lamp for Haiti staff of the proper care required to maintain this unit with the intent of transferring complete responsibility to the Haitian staff on-site.
Throughout the three month duration of the project, other contributors stepped in to provide additional support thanks to the dedication and hard work of Kevin McClellan. Dow Chemical provided a supply of RO membranes necessary to run the unit. Bongards Creamery donated a large food grade stainless steel tank that will serve as water storage facility for the system once on site. Firestone provided coverage of all shipping costs for this unit to successfully arrive at Cite Soleil.
“This is a humbling project to be part of”, Lapointe stated, “many things we take for granted as Americans are basic necessities the people of Haiti are deprived of everyday. I'm thankful that we were able to take this step to help the city of Cite Soleil; but the challenges are far from over.”
Once the RO arrives in Haiti, an adequate water supply to operate the unit will still have to be located, as well as construction of a filter and water storage tanks to supplement the RO equipment. U.S. Water provided engineer drawings that outline the plan for this final water treatment system. Thanks to the determination of Kevin McClellan and the generosity of Global Ethanol, U.S. Water, Dow Chemical, Bongards Creameries, and Firestone, the beginnings of this much needed project are now underway.
The RO unit shipped out of Lake Charles, LA on route to Port-au-Prince, Haiti at the end of December 2010 with a shipping container full of donated food. U.S. Water will continue to support the project providing design and system start-up assistance from Minnesota while Mr. McClellan builds the system near Cite Soleil.