'Water is life,' but not for many in Haiti despite local group's help

Children drink water in Haiti. (Source: Keke Collins)
Children drink water in Haiti. (Source: Keke Collins)
Workers at Water Missions International install a water purification system. (Source: Keke Collins)
Workers at Water Missions International install a water purification system. (Source: Keke Collins)
Children wash dishes in contaminated water in Haiti. (Source: Keke Collins)
Children wash dishes in contaminated water in Haiti. (Source: Keke Collins)

PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI (WCSC) - Clean water has always been an issue in Haiti. Today, the country still scrambles to recover from an earthquake contaminating several wells and springs. Haiti's water issue has now become an emergency.

In response, Charleston-based Water Missions International has worked to provide clean drinking water to Haitian communities.

Live 5's Keke Collins went to Haiti and saw first hand how these water warriors often find themselves swimming against the current.

"In Haiti we say water is life, but I want to add something to that. Water is life when it is treated water. If it's not, water is not life," said one employee at Water Missions International.

Workers at Water Missions International have provided clean drinking water purification systems  that have helped 300,000 Haitians including young students responsible for the country's future.

"I think it was good to have this water purification system inside the school because before we used to drink water that was not clean but now the kids all my friends are happy to drink this water," said sixth grader Analissa Sime through a translator.

The clean drinking water system at one school has not washed away all of the unhealthy habits here. The children still clean their lunch dishes in contaminated water.

"I'm trying to tell them not to use the water," said Johnny Francois with Water Missions International. "It's not clean, but we have the system too close so I think we need to talk to the principal of the school.

The principal said the cooks at the school clean the dishes again with  clean water after the children rinse them, but kitchen workers admit they don't do that all the time.

Related Story: Taking a Closer Look at the Children of Haiti

Beyond the schools, the intense poverty has triggered carjackings and kidnappings for ransom. A Haitian police officer helped one Water Missions employee avoid disaster as he tried to install a system in Port-Au-Prince.

"He say to me, 'Stop inside is danger,' " said Arestil Frenel, a Water Missions Employee. "If you want to lose your car, go in. If you don't want to lose your car, go back because they need your car. They need the money."

Sixty miles outside of Port-Au-Prince, rice production continues near the river where experts say the cholera epidemic began. Every hand raised belongs to someone who lost a loved one to it.

Since last October, the waterborne illness has already claimed nearly 5,000 lives and health officials expect another outbreak within the year. Still, villagers bathe and swim in the diseased water to escape Haiti's harsh sun.

The spread of cholera has slowed though, thanks in part to Water Missions' systems. Before villagers relied on Clorox to clean their drinking water. Following the installation, Water Missions checks in, teaching the people about hygiene.

Handing out a commodity, the villagers will push and shove to get their hands on a free bar of soap.

Though Water Missions is a charitable organization, the service is not free. For every five gallons from this system a small fee is charged. Much less than Haitians would pay at the store or from a water truck. The money goes toward maintaining the system in the community.

The long-term goal is helping the Haitian people sustain themselves when foreign helpers return home.

"When we give them a fish, they'll eat it and it's gone, but our goal is to teach them how to fish," said Elsa Paula with Water Missions.

Water mission struggles to keep up with the demand for systems in Haiti.

If you would like to donate or find answers to questions specifically regarding providing aid for people who lack adequate food and water, visit the following websites:

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