More than many countries, Haiti has felt the effects of a shifting climate. The Caribbean nation has been hit by a series of hurricanes in recent years, culminating in Category 5 Matthew in 2016. Even without the catastrophic damage from such a storm, the spread of water-borne diseases, including cholera, after any heavy rain can be devastating to communities.
In this context, USAID/Haiti was eager to consider climate risk in designing a new water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) project. “We know that Haiti is an extremely vulnerable country for the impacts of climate change,” says Jesse Leggoe, Acting Deputy Director in the Democracy, Human Rights and Governance Office, “Having Hurricane Matthew hit during our design process just re-emphasized that for everyone.”
The interdisciplinary team—including individuals with regional, project design, infrastructure, water, engineering, and climate expertise—was tasked with designing a program to provide first-time and improved sanitation for 75,000 residents, and first-time and improved drinking water for 250,000 residents. The highest priority was given to areas with a high prevalence of cholera and those hit by cyclical climate-related disasters such as Hurricane Matthew.
Using USAID’s climate risk screening and management tool, the team was able to identify a number of places where climate events could affect proposed activities. For example, Haiti’s steep terrain and problems with deforestation lead to massive erosion during heavy rains. Any water system piping that does not take this into account is vulnerable to exposure and damage. “We made sure that one of the implementation parameters was to ensure that key water supply pipes were put underground at a level where they would be at a lower risk for disruption due to flooding and soil erosion,” explains Leggoe.
Leggoe also argues that thinking about climate issues at the beginning of the program planning and design process is easier and more effective for not just USAID but for implementing partners as well. “Doing this analysis earlier on in the process, one of the key end results was that the offerors came back with proposals that included this not only in a technical perspective but in a budgetary perspective as well, so they had planned and set aside resources to address these things,” he says. “That made the subsequent implementation much easier.”
In addition to reducing damage to new infrastructure, other climate resilience measures in the project include supporting water service providers to create long-term plans that ensure the availability of raw water supplies, training latrine providers on issues related to flooding, training households on latrine siting that accounts for climate risks and providing technical assistance to regional sanitation units to standardize latrine and fecal sludge management quality in response to flooding and erosion concerns. Engineering design for construction will consider these climate risks, and climate risk management activities will be included in implementer work plans and in quality assurance and quality control plans for construction. Monitoring will also take place for critical rainfall and drought conditions that could affect available water supply.
DAI was ultimately awarded the 4.5-year, $41.8 million USAID Water and Sanitation project. Chief of Party Sinan al Najjar says they are preparing for infrastructure construction at this point. “We’re doing a deep look into the environmental impacts for each project,” he explains. “And we’re going to start what are called programmatic environmental assessments, where we do assessments for the type of water and sanitation projects we’re doing, including the potential associated climate risks.”
He says that all these assessments really force the team to think creatively about their possible consequences. “Thinking of the impact of climate change is giving us an opportunity to think out of the box.”
Deputy Chief of Party Samuel Mondestin agrees with the usefulness of the process. “We have to do it,” he says. “The long-term results and sustainability depend on these actions.”
Climatelinks is a global knowledge portal for USAID staff, implementing partners, and the broader community working at the intersection of climate change and international development. The portal curates and archives technical guidance and knowledge related to USAID’s work to help countries mitigate and adapt to climate change.