January 26, 2011 16:09 Age: 3 yrs

Helping to Remedy Island Nation’s Water Systems After the Earthquake

By: Wendy R. Cromwell

After spending the summer in Haiti working on water systems, Daniel Hougendobler 12L 12PH looks at cholera outbreaks in simple terms—a water issue.

Hougendobler was part of a four-person Emory team working for Deep Spring International, a nonprofit organi­zation founded by Michael Ritter 08PH devoted to implementing sustainable point-of-use safe water systems in Haiti.

“We were planning to go this sum­mer before the January earthquake,” Hougendobler says. “We checked to see if it was still feasible and discovered it was more important after the quake because the water issues were dire. This was before the cholera outbreak.”

As of Dec. 16, the cholera outbreak had killed more than 2,400 people and sickened more than 54,500.

Hougendobler and Jason Myers 12T traveled to six locations in Haiti training water technicians on a new system and interviewing them about an older, more problematic filtration system.

Two other MPH students conducted quantitative research on incidences of water contamination and diarrhea to establish a link between the two.

“My legal training came into play with the interviews,” Hougendobler says. “The old water system had no replacement supplies, and the techs weren’t being paid. However, the old system was fancier than our system so we had a hard time getting them to transition to our sim­pler system, which was more sustainable.

The summer in Haiti counts as his MPH practicum while raising broader ethical ques­tions for Hougendobler: Who should be responsible when good intentions do more harm than good? What happens when relief agencies throw piece­meal interventions at problems in an effort to help?

“We have a moral imperative to provide sustainable interventions,” he says. “Otherwise, what happens when we leave an area with problems that didn’t exist before we intervened?”

In addition to his MPH practicum, Hougendobler is writing a report on the more general human rights situations that unsustainable interventions can create.

“We need to do a better job of educat­ing people with good intentions about the realities and get them to pool their resources and work with experts so the interventions are sustainable.

“I’m interested in policy-making, and the trip showed me the importance of policy at all levels,” he said. “It makes a big difference when decisions aren’t made in a vacuum.”

List: <- Back to: News Releases