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When I look at pictures of Haiti’s countryside, I’m always struck by how beautiful much of the landscape is, particularly in the rice-growing region along the Artibonite River. But then I think about the grim underside of that beauty—the cholera that can so easily course through rivers like the Artibonite, spreading sickness and death.
The outbreak that started 10 months after a devastating earthquake in 2010 has now claimed more than 7,000 lives and sickened more than half a million people—as if Haiti needed any more trouble heaped on its citizens. The cholera epidemic is reportedly the largest in modern history, and it’s been in the news a lot lately. The New York Times ran a lengthy story early this month and yesterday, NPR filed its own report on the urgent health problem.
The heart of the trouble is the almost complete lack of functioning water and sanitation systems across the country. Many people are pretty much on their own when it comes to providing water for their families: They lug it home from wherever they can find it, and in the rural areas that’s often streams and rivers. Whether it’s fit for drinking—and cholera-free—can be hard for families to determine.
That’s why in the area around Petite Riviere de Nippes, as NPR reported, people are excited about a simple solution Oxfam has been working on: the installation of chlorine dispensers near where they collect their water. The devices are designed to squirt just enough chlorine to purify a five-gallon jug of water. Oxfam is installing about 90 of the dispensers. And the affordability of the chlorine could be the key that makes this solution last, as Oxfam’s Kenny Rae points out in the piece.
“The cost of chlorine is very, very low,” he said. “A $100 tub will cover all these dispensers for six months.”
That’s a sliver of good news for rural Haitians facing a new rainy season and the spike in cholera cases that could trigger.