Introducing "Water Governance in Haiti"

The Trou-du-Nord River in northern Haiti, near its mouth in Caracol Bay.  Photo: Ryan Stoa.

The Trou-du-Nord River in northern Haiti, near its mouth in Caracol Bay.  Photo: Ryan Stoa.

Haitians will go to the polls on Sunday to vote in their national elections, seven months after the Haitian Parliament dissolved and left the executive ruling by decree.  Considering the sorry state of water services in the country, water has been on the political agenda for months.  But the administrative capacities are so low, and the information so scarce, that it's hard to know who the players are in the Haitian water sector, what laws govern them, or how capable those agencies are to carry out their mandates.

I just posted my latest article, titled "Water Governance in Haiti."  It looks at the Haitian water sector to get a clearer picture of the landscape.  The study was funded by the Inter-American Development Bank, and included an analysis of the regulatory capacities of local government agencies in northern Haiti (where foreign governments are funding a large industrial park).  Here is an excerpt:

The first phase of this study collected and analyzed the laws, policies, and institutions involved in water resources management in Haiti.  Results from that phase suggest that the laws and policies affecting water resources create a fragmented and uncoordinated water management framework, in which national ministries have overlapping mandates and rarely coordinate their efforts effectively.  In addition, while the legal framework transfers significant management authorities (and responsibilities) to local governments, there is little else in the way of statutory or regulatory guidance for these governments to rely on.  For that reason, the legal framework creates broad ambiguities regarding how local governments are to be financed, staffed, or otherwise carry out their water management duties.  These uncertainties could, in theory, create the interpretational space needed for local governments to experiment with water management strategies and techniques in ways that foster resilience and increase sustainability.  In practice, it seems more likely that opaque legal mandates would create confusion and leave local governments ill-equipped to tackled the daunting challenges of water management. 

The following case study of institutional capacities in the Trou du Nord watershed in northern Haiti suggests that most agencies and stakeholders have neither the human nor the financial resources in place to fulfill their mandates.  Some, however, such as DINEPA’s local representatives or the University of Limonade, are relatively well-staffed and exhibit the continuity of presence needed to justify targeted capacity building efforts.  Others, such as the sections and communes in the region, may have low levels of capacity in water resources management but merit engagement in order to secure broad participation in water management planning efforts.  The institutional capacity analysis that follows has been conducted with an eye towards informing the final component of the IDB project funding this study: an integrated water resources management plan for the Trou-du-Nord watershed.

The Trou du Nord river is located in the Trou du Nord Arrondissement, a subdivision of the Northeast Department of Haiti.  The Arrondissement contains four communes: Caracol, Saint Suzanne, Terrier-Rouge, and Trou-du-Nord.  These communes comprise the local government bloc of stakeholders most integral to a participatory water management planning strategy, as they represent the core geographic regions of the watershed, while exhibiting a level of regulatory and management activity that lower levels of government (i.e., sections within the communes) lack.  For the most part the four communes do not employ any full-time staff dedicated to water resources, though some activities fall within the broad scope of water management.  More important, perhaps, is the local support and buy-in that would be needed from each commune to effectively carry out a water management plan that modifies the status quo in any meaningful way.

Caracol is a flood-prone coastal commune on Caracol Bay, at the mouth of the Trou-du-Nord river.  It is sparsely populated, but due to the Caracol Industrial Park’s presence, demographics are in flux and electricity is reliable.  The commune reports a total annual budget of less than $195,000, of which over 40% comes from a European Union development project. The 39 staff receive an annual salary of around $4,320, but none are dedicated to water management per se.  A significant portion of commune tasks pertain to waste management, accomplished with wheelbarrows and two motorcycles.  There are no vehicles, nor is there a disposal site in the commune.  While commune staff do not engage in water management themselves, they do work closely with DINEPA staff on water projects when necessary.

On the opposite end of the watershed, the commune of Saint Suzanne sits at the source of the Trou-du-Nord river and comprises a significant portion of the watershed’s catchment area.  The overall budget and staff salaries are similar to those of Caracol, though in practice staff are often not paid on time.  The office has one functioning computer, one motorcycle, and no human or financial resources dedicated to water management.  DINEPA’s presence is minimal, supplemented by periodic wells drilled by international NGOs.  Staff conduct street cleaning, but lack an official disposal site.  Hygiene facilities are minimal to non-existent. 

The communes of Terrier-Rouge and Trou-du-Nord lie between upstream Saint Suzanne and downstream Caracol.  Terrier-Rouge is the eastern commune, sitting directly on the Route Nationale of the northern transportation corridor.  The industrial park has financed new housing projects and reliable electricity in the commune.  A municipal engineer on staff facilitates the issuance of construction permits, and the commune has hired eight staff to conduct reforestation work.  Most other staff are engaged in street cleaning.  The commune lacks a waste disposal site, though plans are in place to build a site capable of serving multiple communes.  DINEPA’s presence, and hygiene facilities, are minimal and supplemented by international NGOs.  The overall budget and staff salaries are similar to those of Caracol, with neither dedicated to water management in any meaningful way.

Finally, the Trou-du-Nord commune forms the western flank of the watershed.  The river flows through the commune before passing by the industrial park.  While no housing projects have been constructed its proximity to the park has enabled reliable electricity throughout the commune.  The commune is relatively well-staffed, with an engineer on hand to issue construction permits, and staff engaged in waste management and small-scale hygiene projects.  However, little infrastructure is available for these purposes, as the commune has only one tricycle and some wheelbarrows, no disposal site, and a dysfunctional water supply system.

The full study is available here.