When I realized how much bottled water was being shipped to Haiti and how expensive it was to ship the water, I felt that we should explore a more sustainable alternative, such as sending water filters. A gallon of water costs approximately $ 4 to ship to Haiti (in pallets of 1,700 half liter bottles). This does not reflect the costs of bottling, handling, distribution and disposal of plastic bottles or the carbon footprint of bottling, delivery and distribution. Kristyna researched the new technology for us and discovered a filter, produced by a church organization in Texas, that cost approximately $20.00.
For what it would cost to ship 5 gallons of water to Haiti, we would be able to send a filter that could produce up to 70 gallons a day, for up to a year. Each day of use would save hundreds of dollars in shipping costs. Over the course of a year, the savings could be better spent on other relief supplies. People caught up in complex distribution efforts would now be able to build homes and schools. Sending cases of filters could provide enough savings to rebuild schools. We ordered our first case.
We needed to try and get as many filters in use as possible because cholera was beginning to make inroads. My sister Deborah offered to contact local churches and see if they would donate a few filters. The Provincetown Banner wrote an article on what we were trying to accomplish. The results were unexpected. To date we have received donations of just over $4,000.
Getting the filters safely into a chaotic region with no infrastructure and no addresses was another challenge We had a friend, working with an international aid organization, building schools and tent homes, in the areas hit by earthquake and hurricane. He advised us not to ship anything to Haiti. He was expected to return to the Cape briefly in December and offered to hand deliver filters for us. That return to Cape Cod was interrupted by riots and passport issues. He reported to us that he was barricaded in a Port au Prince schoolyard. Things were beginning to get complicated, we had cases of water filters outside our office in Wellfleet and our courier was barricaded in a schoolyard in Haiti. I asked Kristyna Smith, the Safe Harbor researcher who had originally discovered the filters, to step in as project coordinator. Smith is an Orleans resident who was a psychology major at Framingham State. Kristyna suddenly had a lot of work.
Through Pru Sowers, the Provincetown Banner reporter who had written about our project, we were contacted by a pilot who delivered medical supplies across Haiti. The pilot gave us links to some church groups with members who regularly traveled to the Port au Prince area. This information was passed on to Kristyna, We developed some guidelines: the filters needed to go to areas suffering from both the earthquake and the hurricane. we had to locate trusted couriers; and another tricky part, the couriers, who would be mostly members of church groups around the country, had to be willing to smuggle these filters into Haiti in their luggage. This last detail was necessary to avoid a $100 luggage surcharge and avoided “complicated package inspections”. We intended to keep these filters off the black market.
Many of our filters went to schools, directly to teachers or through people building the schools. We know our filters are currently being used in approximately 17 small villages the church groups went to. Two cases of filters were delivered to the village of Belle Vue Haiti, where SASH (SASHHaiti.org) has been working, Kristyna reports that some of the couriers didn’t respond to us when they first returned to the US because they were so sick and exhausted.