Thousands of Haitians gathered in churches Friday for a national day of mourning marking the one-month anniversary of the devastating earthquake. As the official death toll has already climbed to 230,000 people, the fear is that many more Haitians will die from deadly diseases associated with contaminated water and sewage.
In the capital of Port-au-Prince, the circumstances are daunting with 87 of the city's 100 water towers damaged. Even with the help of multiple aid groups, Haitians are not getting enough water: Each of the 2.5 million people in the city needs one gallon of water to drink and three more gallons to wash and cook.
This is where Water Missions International (WMI) steps in, an organization set on helping a billion people around the world who do not have access to clean drinking water. Instead of providing one-time-use solutions such as sending in bottled water or disinfectant packets, WMI implements water treatment systems that can quickly purify water and provide clean drinking water for the whole community for years to come.
The organization's founders, chemical and environmental engineers George and Molly Greene, became aware of such water issues on a trip to Honduras in 1998 following Hurricane Mitch. At the request of an Episcopalian bishop, the Greenes were asked to design a water treatment plant to provide clean water to the area. Molly remembers this as a sort of "grown-up science fair project," but on a deeper level the couple was able to see the incredible need for sustainable clean water in developing countries. The Greenes ended up selling their environmental engineering company and starting the non-profit Water Missions International in 2001.
WMI has since set up its patented Living Water treatment system, which can provide clean drinking water for 3,000 to 5,000 people for 20 years, in communities in 40 different countries. They have also responded to disasters such as the South Asian tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, the China earthquake, the Burma (Myanmar) cyclone, and now the Haiti earthquake.
"These disasters really gets the world's attention, but everyday is a disaster for the millions of people with no clean water," Molly said.
WMI started working in Haiti in 2003 and already had 22 water projects in place when the earthquake hit. Since the earthquake a month ago, the group has implemented another 30 systems in hospitals, camps for the internally displaced, and local churches. There are another 40 en route, as are aluminum forms to build thousands of permanent sanitary latrines.
Molly differentiates between immediate relief and long-term community development: "When there's a disaster it's about getting it done as quickly as possible. Then afterward it's always about working in conjunction with the people."
The Living Water treatment system is designed to do just that: letting the local population operate and maintain the system themselves. It works just like a miniature water treatment plant-taking muddy water and pushing out clear, disinfected water-but it is designed to be easy to set up and operate in countries where people may not have any formal education. After training a few of the local people on how to use the treatment system and its solar power pumps, the community will be able to be self-sufficient in treating water for two decades.
More than just supplying people with clean water, Molly hopes to supply people with living water: "This ability to create physical water opens the doors to every place in the world. It gives us the opportunity to share when they ask 'Why do you do this?' Well, it's because we serve a mighty God who created you and loves you and wants you to spend eternity with Him.
"We feel a real calling-everyone working here is called. It's not just an [nongovernmental organization] doing good works; we are called because the Lord touched us and said 'you are blessed to be a blessing to others.'"
'Still in shock' | Haiti is hit by a massive earthquake followed by aftershocks, with an epicenter near the capital, Port-au-Prince | Mindy Belz and Jamie Dean | Jan. 12, 2010
Helping Haiti | WORLD provides a list of relief organizations accepting donations to assist earthquake victims in Haiti | The Editors | Jan. 13, 2010
Search and rescue | U.S. disaster experts, the U.S. military, and private relief groups head to earthquake-devastated Haiti | Mindy Belz | Jan. 13, 2010
In the dark | Haitian-Americans hope to contact loved ones and quickly send aid back home to family and friends | Alisa Harris | Jan. 13, 2010
Weeping and waiting | Haitian earthquake victims await help, but obstacles slow relief efforts | Jamie Dean | Jan. 14, 2010
Desperation | Too many Haitians are in a holding pattern awaiting aid, as relief organizations try to make progress | Jamie Dean | Jan. 15, 2010
Long night | With tens of thousands of casualties, Haitians weep and wait for morning | Jamie Dean | Jan. 15, 2010
Deliverance | A group of orphans arrive safely in Pittsburgh while relief organizations report progress in Haiti | Mindy Belz | Jan. 19, 2010
Crying for help | Hard-pressed Haitians seek assistance as aid groups face logistical challenges | Jamie Dean | Jan. 21, 2010
Leaving Port | Beyond the capital city are rural communities equally devastated by the quake and in need of help | Jamie Dean | Jan. 22, 2010
The new normal | As life and death continue their morbid mingling, relief groups forge ahead to help | Jamie Dean | Jan. 22, 2010
Finding home | Now that search-and-rescue efforts have been called off, attention turns to providing shelter for survivors | Jamie Dean | Jan. 23, 2010
Chaotic aid | Relief groups attempt to help Haitians despite murky rules, government interference, and the lack of a cohesive plan | Jamie Dean | Jan. 28, 2010
Aftershock | Caregivers predict a second wave of death, as Haitians find moments of deliverance amid days of devastation from one of the modern world's worst natural disasters | Jamie Dean | Jan. 29, 2010
Homecoming | For Haitians orphaned before the quake, it means leaving home and starting over | Alisa Harris | Jan. 29, 2010
Crisis giving | Instant need calls for long-term strategy | Rusty Leonard | Jan. 29, 2010
An indecent grief | First lamentations, then comfort that strengthens more than soothes | Mindy Belz | Jan. 29, 2010
Hope for Haiti? (audio file) | Hear WORLD news editor Jamie Dean discuss her visit to the earthquake-ravaged country | Nick Eicher | Feb. 1, 2010
Despair and salvation | While the UN grapples with unruly crowds, The Salvation Army peacefully distributes food | Jamie Dean | Feb. 2, 2010
Crossing lines | Failing to heed sound advice, 10 Americans now find themselves facing kidnapping charges in Haiti | Jamie Dean | Feb. 4, 2010
Haiti's plight (audio file) | A discussion of the country's days of devastation and moments of deliverance | Jamie Dean | Feb. 5, 2010
Stress management | Helping Haitians recover takes zeal-with wisdom | Jamie Dean | Feb. 12, 2010
Taking charge | In quake aftermath, build new cities, says Haitian ambassador (and Bible translator) Raymond Joseph | Mindy Belz | Feb. 12, 2010
Houses of God | Grand-Goave, Haiti | The Editors | Feb. 12, 2010
Building blocks | While Christian Aid Ministries provides for the immediate needs of quake victims, it looks ahead to helping the country rebuild | Angela Lu | Feb. 16, 2010
Close quarters | ActionAid helps homeless Haitians deal with sanitation and security issues at camps set up in Port-au-Prince | Angela Lu | Feb. 23, 2010
Hardest hit | With nearly half a million orphaned children before the quake, Haiti's challenge to parent them just got bigger | Jamie Dean | Feb. 26, 2010
The search for miracles | Port-au-Prince is a city desperately seeking turnaround-and that's before the earthquake | Jamie Dean | March 12, 2010
Hope in the darkness | World Hope International offers Haitians practical assistance and spiritual guidance | Angela Lu | March 24, 2010
Night crawlers | A new disaster threatens defenseless women and children in Haitian tent cities: rape | Jamie Dean | March 25, 2010
Homecoming | Missionary Patrick Lataillade, who nearly died in the quake, returned to help Haitians this week | Angela Lu | March 27, 2010
Hashing out Haiti | As the UN makes recovery plans, Haitians struggle for the basic necessities for survival | Jamie Dean | March 31, 2010