Monday, December 10, 2012

Raising expectations

People often ask what I actually do during all these trips to Haiti. I often talk about building this project or that. But with each project I hope I'm raising expectations. Most Haitians don't expect to have water in their homes 24/7. Most Haitians think only the wealthy get a water pipe to their home. Most Haitians don't know that you can also use pipes for a sewer system. When I go to Haiti I use our construction projects to raise the bar and show how we get from the status quo to a higher standard of living. Here's a recap of my most recent trip.

Digicel / Turgeau Well partnership. We visited a great spring in the hills on the southeast side of Port au Prince in the hopes of securing water rights for a client of ours. What we found shocked me, but I guess I should have expected it. Here's a photo of the pumphouse we found at the spring:

To explain, there is a spring that flows out of the mountain nearby. The water flows through a 12-inch pipe down to a concrete reservoir. From there it supplies the Port au Prince water system. However, because of all the leaks there is never enough water in the main system. So in this photo you see 7 private pumps connected to the spring source before the water enters the main system. These private pumps supply water directly to well-to-do private residents.

The root problem here is all the leakage in the Port au Prince water system. I have a dream to divide the city into zones and completely rehabilitate each zone, one at a time with new water, sewer and streets... For now we will attempt to negotiate yet another private tap into this supply for our client.

Hinche Water System. Hinche is a city of 35,000 people that I've been passing through for years wondering why all those public water taps never flowed. Well I finally got my chance to wrap my mind around this problem a few months ago. We conducted a survey and designed new pipes for about half the streets in town as part of a street reconstruction project. I used this project to develop a new method of developing a set of engineering plans that included all of the necessary design information and explained how the project should be managed.


We just conducted a progress meeting where we invited all the government agencies, the road contractor and a Spanish consultant working with the government water ministry. I heard one of the Haitians prior to the meeting say that this was the first time he had attended a meeting during a project. He had previously only heard of pre and post project meetings. The meeting was full of new and great ideas. The officials were engaging, optimistic and willing to work together. A big reason for this is that the meeting was held in Kreyol. Conversely, meetings like this are often held in French which not only intimidates the Haitians but limits their understanding because they are not fluent in French.

Since construction began in September we have installed 25,000 feet of new water pipes in Hinche. My first student, Raynold is the project manager. One of the officials reported a common comment he has heard is "where did you find these guys, they really work fast!". I think this is because Raynold is well educated and education breeds confidence. He knows what to do and we trust him enough to do it himself without much intervention from us. Props to Haiti Outreach for giving the Haitian people this opportunity to perform.

My role is to monitor the quality of construction and teach new methods. My objective this trip was to teach them how to construct a concrete box around each valve. We bought some lumber and built the forms. Then we assembled them and built our first valve box. My student, Gidel picked up fast and was soon thinking of ways to improve the process. That skill alone reminded me that he is a valuable employee. He will go far in his career and I feel fortunate to have a role in it.

James, my boss at Northwater was in Hinche too with his geophysics equipment. The current water source provides 200 gallons per minute. But the city needs at least 1400 gal/min to provide 24/7 water. James did 2 days worth of soundings in search of a groundwater supply. The survey we conducted so far looks good and I think we should be able to put together a good complete water system for Hinche.

With projects now under construction at Hinche, Dondon and Saint Raphael and plans underway for Miasod and a few other smaller projects we are in need of another engineer. There are engineers in Haiti but few are willing to get their hands dirty and work as hard as we ask on these water projects. So the search is on. But if you be the one and are reading this, check out the hands of our current engineer. 

Dondon Water System. This is our latest design project. Dondon is a city of 7,000 people. It has been without water for the last year. But even when water was flowing they only had 20 gal/min to share amongst the entire community. But I recently found a spring high in the mountains that flows over 200 gal/min. My objective this trip was to identify a location to build a water storage reservoir. We found a great place and conducted an abney level survey to verify the location would provide the proper water pressure in town. Within a week or so I should have the plans for this system finalized and with any luck we can begin construction early next year.

Saint Raphael Water System. This was the second water system we constructed in Haiti. The initial construction contract is mostly complete but the Haitian government recently added another 5 kilometers to our project. So I have to develop the plans for it and get them back to Hati Outreach so they can make plans for construction. The first set of plans for this project I remember drawing up during my Thanksgiving holiday break. That was when I had a full time job and did my Haiti work on the weekends. These plans were far less developed and nowhere near the standards we have developed with recent projects. Haiti Outreach gave me the go-ahead on this trip to spend the time to put together a proper plan document.

Miasod. I have a vision for this to be the first city in Haiti with both a piped water and sewer system. It's the first city where I've been given the time to develop such a plan. A Haitian road contractor, SECOSA has surveyed the town and is preparing to reconstruct the streets. I heard they have an AutoCAD drawing with all the information I need to develop the plans. So Friday afternoon I got off the 4-seater airplane that took me to Port au Prince and hired a motorcycle taxi. We dipped and dived at harrowing speeds through the streets of Port au Prince for almost an hour before we arrived at the office where I would get the AutoCAD drawing. 

The guys at SECOSA were happy to see me and give me the plans. They asked, what will you do with these plans? I explained my vision for a piped sewer system. They were all confused that I would propose to send toilet water through pipes. This is what I mean by raising expectations. Even some of the most educated in Haiti are unaware of the possibilities to create infrastructure to sustain a clean and sanitary environment. Back down the mountain, I arrived at the airport just in time to catch my flight. All the way through the ariport nobody said anything. But when I looked in the mirror in the bathroom I looked like a racoon. My face was caked in dirt except for where my glasses covered. It had been raining lightly on my recent journey. The rain and dirt in the air mixed to form mud on my face, he he. I was quite a site.

Until next time...


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