Emerging Pathogens Institute - University of Florida

EPI Plans Water Summit

Haiti has endured more than its share of challenges. Its people have been subjected not only to poverty and political upheaval, but also to a seemingly endless procession of natural disasters following one upon the other for more than a decade.

Hurricane Ivan launched the cycle in September 2004, followed quickly by Hurricane Jeanne in which more than 3000 residents were killed and 300,000 left homeless. Hurricanes Dennis and Wilma victimized the island in 2005.  

2008 saw Tropical Storm Fay, Hurricane Gustav, and Ike hammer Haiti leaving 77 dead and 3000 homes destroyed and 11,000 heavily damaged.

The horrific earthquake – a magnitude 7.0 struck January 12, 2010. Accurate casualty figures are elusive but estimates of deaths range from 46,000 to 316,000.  A second earthquake of 6.1 magnitudes struck on January 20. This was followed by a massive cholera outbreak which, to date, has claimed the lives of close to 9,500 persons, with almost 800,000 reported cases. Finally, in November, 2010 Hurricane Tomas put an ugly imprimatur on 2010, causing at least 10 deaths and worsening the cholera outbreak.

The ensuing years were less frightful from a natural disaster perspective but 2016 saw Hurricane Matthew hit the island killing 1300 and leaving more than 35,000 homeless.

In the wake of these destructive events hundreds of Non-Governmental Organizations sent delegations to Haiti to help alleviate suffering. Many of these sought to help by drilling wells to provide potable water – chronically in short supply on the island but critically unavailable to so many residents especially after the earthquake. Unfortunately, many wells now lie dormant due to pump parts being unavailable or the absence of trained mechanics to work on them. Still other wells while operational are producing fouled and tainted water. Consumption of tainted water has exacerbated Haiti’s cholera outbreak and further strained its already over-taxed health provision system. 

Indeed Haiti has suffered much as its people have been ravaged by these events, and by the resultant persistent and frightful effects of cholera and other water-borne diseases.

The cost of these events in terms of human suffering and economic impact is such that outside help is essential to any credible effort at mitigation.

EPI is committed to assisting in the mitigation of this acute public health crisis in Haiti. To this end, EPI will co-host an International Water Summit in November 2017, to include interested parties within Haiti as well as experts from various disciplines all of which are vital to the development of a cogent plan to arrest and alleviate cholera and other water-borne illness on the island.

Following up on its December 2016 visit, EPI led a contingent of researchers and academic professionals on a trip to Haiti in March 2017, to lay the groundwork for the November Water Summit.  In addition to Dr. Morris, the UF group included Dr. Wendy Graham, Director of the UF Water Institute; Dr. Tom Frazer, Director of the UF School of Natural Resources and Environment; Dr. Curtis Taylor, Associate Dean of the UF College of Engineering; Mary Jane Angelo, Director of the Environment and Land Use Law Program at the UF College of Law; Dr. Brian Boman, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, UF/IFAS; Florence Sergile, Research Coordinator for the Emerging Pathogens Institute; and Dr. Madsen Beau De Rochars, UF College of Public Health and Health Professions.  The group spent over an hour with Dr. Fritz Deshommes, the Rector of the State University of Haiti (UEH) and his staff, followed by meetings with key faculty and administrators at the UEH Schools of Engineering, Medicine, and Agriculture.  A working group of UEH and UF faculty and staff was formed, which has met subsequently and is working on details for the Summit.

EPI’s vision is to identify interested parties who might want to join this effort. We are looking for corporate sponsors, academic institutions with a strong research perspective, service clubs which want to be involved in issues related to providing potable water, and individuals who see this endeavor as worthwhile and deserving of support. For more information on how you can participate in this vital effort, please contact Thomas Lane, EPI Development Office, hthomas.lane@epi.ufl.edu or 352 870 0008.