From creek to clean water

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It’s a cheerful little creek and pretty, as spring-fed brooks tend to be, quite clear as it flows over its rocky shallows, and an attractive gathering spot where people wade and splash to cool off in oppressive heat, and some wash themselves and their clothes.

The creek is in Haiti, on its hilly north coast, and flows through the village of Labadie, neighbor to Royal Caribbean’s 260-acre private destination. Nearby is another RCL initiative, L’Ecole Nouvelle Royal Caribbean, one of the first schools built after the 2010 earthquake that overwhelmed the island nation.

Among the legacies of that disaster is a cholera epidemic that began within months of the quake and has since killed hundreds of thousands of Haitians, the worst cholera toll in modern history. The diarrheal disease is spread by fouled drinking water.

In Labadie, “We’re being preventative,” says Helen O’Connell, Royal Caribbean’s community relations manager.

The latest project in a 12-year partnership between RCL and the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF) began last fall and is now providing access to clean water and better sanitation for the 7,000 inhabitants of Labadie Village.

The process began with a census to determine how many people might rely on the new facilities, and with the formation of a local committee to bolster planning and manage operations.

Once specific needs were determined, and using $300,000 from RCL for the project, a PADF engineer led locally hired workers in an effort that included:

  • Building an enclosure for the spring to deter activities that pollute the source of the village drinking water. A solar-powered pump was installed inside the enclosure to feed water to an existing upstream holding tank.
  • The addition of community toilets, showers and dozens of laundry stations.
  • Installing a three-chambered septic tank for waste treatment.
  • Refurbishing a drinking water kiosk where one gourd – the local equivalent of about a penny – will buy enough clean water to fill a five-gallon container.
  • Providing and planting several thousand trees to mitigate extensive erosion and damage to the aquifer uphill from the village. Fruit trees – banana and Haitian mango – were used to discourage cutting them down for firewood, a big contributor to catastrophic deforestation that has left most of the once-verdant landscape denuded.

As PADF conducted a local educational campaign to stress the importance of water safety and sanitation, Labadie villagers began to adopt the new facilities as a de facto social center.

“People come around, hang around, and we’ve really seen that since we started construction,” O’Connell says. “We sort of created almost a little community hub.

“Everyone has been very involved and really feels like it’s theirs. And we’re hoping for generations that they will protect it and have it. It’s not Royal Caribbean’s water.”