Strengthening water systems in Haiti: An interview with Helvetas’ Water and Sanitation Advisor

Strengthening water systems in Haiti: An interview with Helvetas’ Water and Sanitation Advisor

Strengthening water systems in Haiti: An interview with Helvetas’ Water and Sanitation Advisor 1032 688 Agenda for Change

WASH Unit of the Bainet municipality conducting group work during a training (Helvetas Haiti)

Background: Helvetas has been working in Haiti since 1984 to support access to water and sanitation, environmental conservation and climate change adaptation, and emergency relief and restoration. Their approach has evolved over the years towards a systemic approach that is key to sustainability and impact at scale. In 2017, Helvetas Haiti began working to enable local WASH actors to execute their roles and respond to their responsibilities. Below is a summary of an interview with Helvetas Haiti’s Water and Sanitation Advisor.

Alec Shannon (AS), Content Strategist, Agenda for Change: What is the recent history of water service delivery in Haiti?

Lucien Blaser (LB), Water and Sanitation Advisor, Helvetas Haiti: One of the key milestones was the 2008 drinking water and sanitation sector reform, which resulted in the sector law. The law created DINEPA[1] in 2009 as the regulatory body, and it stated that the sector would move towards decentralization, which means municipalities oversee water service delivery. The shifting priorities due to the 2010 earthquake and subsequent cholera outbreak, combined with the lack of trust towards the municipalities, hindered the effective implementation of several parts of this sector reform, notably the decentralization. As a result, water and sanitation in Haiti have not improved much in recent years.

AS: Tell me about the goals of your work in Haiti.

LB: Our approach is aligned with the vision of the sector reform and focuses on building local governance schemes that separate the functions of DINEPA and the municipalities. We are implementing a program called REGLEAU[2]REnforcement de la Gouvernance Locale de l’Eau et de l’Assainissement (“Strengthening Local Governance of Water and Sanitation”) in four municipalities in the South-East department: Jacmel, Bainet, La Vallée-de-Jacmel, and Marigot. This program is being implemented over 12 years to support the long-term, systemic changes needed.

To start, we facilitated the development of a future vision, in which the different actors (e.g., municipalities, DINEPA, professional operators of the infrastructure, users) all have their role to play. We work with these actors through supporting activities, like training, setting up procedures and clear terms of reference, and defining plans and strategies. However, all the activities leading to service provision are done by the local actors.

AS: Please describe the process?

LB: The program is in its first phase (2018 – 2022) of implementation. In the first year we started by strengthening the capacities of the municipalities. Within each municipality, the appropriate employees were identified and grouped into a WASH unit. Based on the result of the baseline study, the municipalities (mayor, WASH unit, representatives of the sub-municipal level[3]), alongside DINEPA, identified which water supplies needed to be repaired, and the municipalities included the actions needed in the municipal budget. The municipalities contracted consultants to conduct the technical and environmental studies and now they are finishing the tendering procedure to select the construction firms to make repairs. All this is done under close supervision of the sector regulator.

In parallel, municipalities are conducting discussions with the communities on governance issues (e.g., who is in charge for daily operations and maintenance? Why it is important to pay for the service?), which are the main reasons for the breakdown of the infrastructure.

For the municipalities, it is the first time they are actively involved in these processes. Therefore, Helvetas still plays an active support role while allowing the municipalities to learn by doing. As these activities are repeated (planning, budgeting, construction, etc.), increasing responsibility is handed over to the municipalities. At the same time, Helvetas is helping the municipalities to address bottlenecks outside the sector. For instance, we work with the municipalities and the Ministry of Interior and local authorities[4] to increase their tax revenues, as the current revenues barely cover employee salaries.

AS: What are some next steps to help you reach your goals?

LB: We are currently supporting the municipalities in developing municipal WASH plans. The plan development is led by the municipalities with the participation of local leaders and will include aspects of resource protection to maintain water quality and availability. The plan will identify the priorities over the next five years, including the planning and budgeting needed for the municipalities. Another important step is receiving official recognition of the terms of reference and structure of the municipal WASH units by the Ministry of Interior and local authorities to institutionalize this approach.

AS: What are the biggest challenges you foresee for strengthening the WASH system in Haiti?

LB: In Haiti, the challenge lies in building a social contract between local authorities and citizens, for example through WASH service provision, that results in increased trust at the local level. Donors and implementing organizations must recognize that short-term WASH projects with the sole focus on infrastructure might weaken the system if responsibilities are taken from the local actors. Actors in the WASH system need long-term, stable partnerships that guide them to respond to their legal obligations.

Another challenge is to have everyone understand their function, and to ensure they have confidence in their specific roles to assume leadership and provide services, while acknowledging the role and authority of the other actors in the sector. Municipalities cannot do everything alone, there must be some cooperation between the various actors (e.g., operators, users, the regulator). If you look for example at DINEPA, developing that understanding of what regulation and control of the sector involves, and what is needed to fulfill these functions, is a critical step towards developing a stronger WASH system at both national and local levels.

[1] National Directorate of Potable Water and Sanitation in Haiti.
[2] Financed by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).
[3] The “Sections communales.” Each municipality in subdivided in several of these sections, each having elected representatives.
[4] MICT: Ministère de l’Intérieur et des Collectivités Territoriales

Lucien Blaser is Water and Sanitation Advisor for Helvetas Haiti. He joined Helvetas in 2015 and has been with the Haiti team since the end of 2017. Previously, he worked for the Global Program for Water at the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) giving him insight into both the global and local governance of water and sanitation. He defines himself as a geographer and has degrees in Geosciences and Environment, and Development Studies.

Back to top