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Reconstructing Haiti: Water

The request seemed simple enough: find several tons of granulated chlorine and ship it to Port-au-Prince, where it was urgently needed to disinfect drinking water for survivors of the January 12 earthquake.

Dominique Bouzerma, the IDB’s water and sanitation specialist in Haiti, relayed the request to his colleague Yvon Mellinger at the Bank’s headquarters in Washington, on the morning of January 20.  Bouzerma was calling on behalf of DINEPA, the Haitian government’s water and sanitation authority, and one of the few public institutions that survived the earthquake relatively unscathed.

Normally, granulated chlorine is easy to obtain. But in the chaos following the earthquake, DINEPA was finding it impossible to source even basic supplies. On a hunch, Mellinger called Paulino Turbi, an executive at the CAASD, the water and sanitation utility that serves in the capital city of the Dominican Republic. By early afternoon Turbi had found a supplier at a reasonable price. Meanwhile Ariel Rodríguez, a procurement specialist at the IDB’s Haiti office, drafted an emergency purchase order, and Mariela Antiga, a financial specialist in the same office, arranged for payment to be processed. Turbi also provided some trucks to convey the chlorine to the border between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, where it was eventually transferred onto trucks sent by DINEPA.

On Jan. 22, less than 48 hours after Bouzerma called Mellinger, the chlorine arrived in Port-au-Prince.

The shipment required tight coordination and near constant communication between dozens of people—something that has become the norm as IDB works with its partners in the Haitian government on the colossal task of responding to the earthquake.

“More than anything else,” said Corinne Cathala, a water and sanitation specialist at IDB headquarters who is helping with the Haiti response, “what the Haitian government is asking from us is to help with logistics, coordination and communications.”

Though many of DINEPA’s staffers lost loved ones during the earthquake, the agency has been operating without interruption since Jan. 13, producing a preliminary damage assessment and a prioritized list of urgently needed equipment and supplies.

Near the top of this list are large, collapsible water tanks that DINEPA needs to store water at emergency distribution points. Instead of trying to find, price and purchase hundreds of these tanks on its own, DINEPA asked the IDB to do so. The Bank’s Water and Sanitation Division sent out queries to other utilities in the region and has been coordinating closely with AECID (the Spanish government’s international aid agency), with which it was already co-financing a large program of water and sanitation grants in Haiti. After reviewing suggestions from these and other partners, the IDB and AECID were able to source water tanks and other equipment that are scheduled to be flown from Madrid to Port-au-Prince on Feb. 8.

Meanwhile, in Port-au-Prince the IDB’s Bouzerma is working with DINEPA technicians and volunteer engineers from France and Holland to complete a more thorough assessment of the damages to the water and sanitation system. This assessment will form the basis of medium-to-long term reconstruction plans.

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