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Haiti: Are Water Riots Next?

A few weeks ago, the world woke up to the news that demonstrations were breaking out in various countries impacted by the sudden rise in basic food costs. Haiti was among those countries whose people cried out their pain through street protests. These peaceful demonstrations graduated to food riots in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, which is home to an estimated 2 million inhabitants, but whose infrastructure was built for less than 150,000. The food riots led to parliament sacking Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis only a month after giving him a vote of confidence.

Attempts at setting up a new government have so far been unsuccessful. Following a few weeks of consultations with political leaders and members of parliament, President Rene Preval nominated Ericq Pierre as the new Prime Minister. While the Senate overwhelmingly approved of the nomination, the Chamber of Deputies  rejected  it just as soundly. As of this writing, the President has not sent up any other nominee for parliament’s consideration.

Little noticed however is that the food riots may only be a prelude to other riots that will all hail from the lack of basic necessities. Water, yes water riots are sure to be not too far behind.

The Haitian government’s “Growth and Poverty Reduction Strategy” developed over a period of several months in consultation with a broad cross-section of the Haitian population and with the assistance of development experts states the following for example:

As a result of the removal of trees and brush clearing on marginal lands by the people, 25 of the 30 main watersheds in Haiti are now stripped bare (MDE 1999) and their soils severely impacted by erosion… Water scarcity is a harsh reality for Haitians, particularly for the poorest population groups. The United Nations estimates that Haiti is among the nine countries whose people will experience a water shortage by 2025 (less than 1,000 m3/inhabitant/year). The water sector is beset by serious problems. Most of Haiti’s large cities are subject to flooding with the slightest downpour. A sharp decline has been observed in the flows from the major springs providing drinking water to the urban centers. Access to safe drinking water supplies throughout the country is extremely low, at roughly 43 percent, and the rate of coverage in Haiti is the lowest in the Western Hemisphere.

Water riots may not be that far behind. They are taking place on a small scale daily around the few water fountains spread around urban areas and which are the sole source of water for drinking, bathing, cooking for the majority of the poor. When these wells run dry, it’s likely that anger will erupt into something catastrophic. Unfortunately, the course of action envisioned by the drafters of the poverty reduction strategy seems to be quite below the urgent action that is called for…

Stay tuned for more on the “growth and poverty reduction strategy” that is to be the first item on the agenda when Haiti, nominally outfitted with a new Prime Minister sits at the negotiating table with its allies and overseers… Meanwhile, let me know of your thoughts.

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