Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sustainable Solutions: Chapateau Water Committee

Over three months in, I'm still hearing things like, "what do you do every day?" or "I still don't understand what you do." Most of my job involves meetings--I'm provide a supportive role for various groups and projects going on in and around Cange. Meetings usually do not make for interesting blog posts or photographs, so I haven't posted much about them. But this past week was an exception, when I went to the village of Chapateau to help form a water committee for their village water system.

Engineer Brian, Colon, EDUSC visitor Gordon Smith, and I rode in a dugout canoe across the lake to Chapateau. The Clemson engineers have been renovating a broken water system there, but they wish to provide the village with a sustainable mechanism to improve maintenance and local control of the system. The water committee will hopefully prevent the village from experiencing long periods without water at their fountains and reduce dependency on outside aid.
Brian and Colon
For this process to work, the engineers have been working closely with the villagers so the developed committee is locally grown. Colon, a Haitian gentleman who works frequently with the engineers, provided his usual invaluable support by leading the meeting with the village. His leadership and presence bridges the cultural gaps left between the engineers and the community, significantly improving the potential of success for the project.

How the process works

The school fountain has newly added filtration
 As the engineers have been doing physical updates to the system, they have also engaged village leaders to gather the town together for meetings on creating a committee that can run the water system. The first large meeting helped explain the significance and benefits of the water committee. This past meeting involved actually selecting the members of the committee.
 The committee will have eight people: one president, one secretary, one treasurer, and five representatives for each of the five fountains. These people will collectively run the system by doing repairs, responding to misuse, and filling the reservoir each night by controlling the valves to the various fountains. They will also collect a small amount of money annually from each family that should be sufficient for maintenance costs. Expected fees are around 100-150 gourdes, or $2.30-$3.49 (American) annually. This is approximately one day's wage for an average member of the community.
 The villagers gathered in the church sanctuary for the meeting. Elections for each position were done one at a time. The entire group deliberated until a person stood to be the nominee for the particular position. That person was then affirmed through applause. Colon also stipulated that one of the three primary positions must be a woman--that ended up being the treasurer.
 After the meeting, the village had their eight member water committee. The first meeting with the committee will be next week, if God wants, where they will decide the rules of use for the water system to be handed out to each family. They will design cards that serve to record each family's payment for the year, in addition to deciding the fee itself. Finally, they will discuss their own responsibilities on the committee and any other relevant topics.

Why is a water committee such a big deal?

Many Haitian villages have water systems most often built buy foreign NGOs, just as the system in Cange. In most cases, there is no centralized control to maintain the water system and manage the utilization of the resource. When the system breaks, individuals do not (or cannot) act to repair the system. Consequently, many of these village water systems sit in disrepair or cycle through periods of operation until the original NGO or a new NGO arrives to repair the system.

The formation of a water committee involves overcoming this collective action problem. While fixing the broken water system is in the interest of everyone in the village, usually no one individual can or is willing to fix the system on their own.
Chapateau's water system was originally built by Zanmi Lasante about twenty years ago, but it has repeatedly broken leaving the village without water. The system most recently broke about five years ago, meaning the villagers had to return to getting water from the source itself--spending about an hour walking up a mountain for each trip.

When systems like this break and go un-repaired for an extended period of time, the system itself becomes a resource. People will dismantle the system and sell the parts that have market value, making it more costly to repair. But with a mechanism in place to allow the community to maintain the system collectively, repairs can happen faster, keeping the time without water at a minimum and significantly diminishing the dependency on unreliable outside aid.
The Chapateau project is providing good first time experience for the Clemson engineers and myself for a process we hope to implement in other villages, including Cange. In larger villages, fees could potentially be higher allowing for expansion of the system. Also, if people in larger villages want water to their homes, the committee can help organize that and charge them higher for their water use to cover the cost and maintenance.

Though I sit in meetings quite frequently, I have a pretty cool position here in Cange and with EDUSC. Hopefully you now have a better idea of the types of meetings I attend.

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