NEW YORK – During a recent visit to the rural community of Los Palmas, Haiti, I had the opportunity to talk with families directly affected by the cholera epidemic that has been afflicting the country since the 2010 earthquake. One man explained that not only had the disease killed his sister, but his mother-in-law had also perished as she undertook the hours-long walk to the nearest hospital. He and his wife are now caring for five orphaned nieces and nephews.
In Haiti today, stories like this are not uncommon. Indeed, thousands of people across the country have endured similar trials and tragedies.
But there are also signs of hope. Increased community engagement and changes in hygiene practices have freed the women, men, and children of Los Palmas and the neighboring village of Jacob of cholera – a dramatic reversal from the last few years – and reduced their risk of contracting other water-borne diseases. One family I met, for example, proudly showed me a new water filter.
This community-led approach will be critical to the success of the “total sanitation campaign,” which Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe and I launched in Los Palmas during my visit. By encouraging household investment in durable, hygienic latrines, providing improved sanitation products and services at affordable prices, and ensuring that schools and health centers have adequate water and sanitation infrastructures, the initiative will improve health conditions for three million people in high-risk areas over the next five years. Just before leaving the village, we laid the symbolic first stone of a new secure water source.