Student group postpones Haiti trip

Due to cholera and riots in Haiti, Engineers Without Borders was forced to reconsider.

by Laura Sievert

The University of Minnesota chapter of Engineers Without Borders postponed a planned trip to Haiti last week because of the recent outbreak of cholera and riots in the country.

EWB planned on sending five students and one travel mentor to northern Haiti from Jan. 3 to Jan. 12 to assess the situation in the country.

This would have been the first of two trips the group took, with the second trip actually implementing new sanitation plans.

After consideration of the countryâÄôs fragile state, the group was forced to reconsider.

“We would just be there to help,” EWB member Dan Palmer said. “There isnâÄôt enough benefit to risk our lives.”

According to Palmer, the trips were not canceled but have instead been postponed. Palmer is hoping to reschedule the assessment trip for spring break, but if that isnâÄôt possible, the group will try to take two trips during the summer.

The cholera outbreak in Haiti was confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Oct. 21, though its origin is still unclear.

According to the CDC, for a cholera outbreak to occur, the sanitation and hygiene used by large groups of people must be contaminated and cholera must already be present in the population.

Ironically, Haitians are blaming aid workers for bringing the disease to their country, which has caused multiple riots in the area EWB planned to travel to.

Cholera is treated simply by the hydration of those infected, but if the disease goes untreated âÄî as it has in Haiti âÄî it can lead to shock and life-threatening complications.

EWB originally planned to go to Haiti to help solve the sanitation problems that led to the cholera outbreak.

Two groups, a sanitation group and a bio-digester group, were developing projects for the country. There is also a plastics team working on a Haiti project, but it did not plan to attend the January trip.

The sanitation group, led by Palmer, has been creating above-ground toilets. Currently, more than 20,000 people in northern Haiti are sharing two large toilets, which fill up rapidly, causing some Haitians to resort to using a street or river to deposit their waste instead.

EWB is proposing giving Haitians toilets inside their homes.

These toilets would be made of concrete, the cheapest material in Haiti, and would cost $7 or $8 each.

The toilets would contain a five-gallon bucket for waste. When the bucket was full, the Haitians could bring it to a compost sight and receive a new bucket.

The bio-digester team, led by Jon Fraatz , has developed a method for harvesting the wasteâÄôs methane to create energy.

As Haitians have used almost all the wood in the country, this will give them the ability to power low-pressure stoves, as well as offering them fertilizer in the future.

The cost of the trip would have been approximately $9,000, which was paid for by grants. All of the money EWB receives each year goes toward these trips.

Engineers Without Borders USA could put a hold on Haiti travel, preventing any EWB chapters from going there, Fraatz said. This hold would be lifted only when the political climate in Haiti improves.

“If things donâÄôt improve somewhat dramatically, then there is a good possibility that there will be a hold for EWB in Haiti,” he said. “If we got hurt and had to come back, then we wouldnâÄôt have helped anybody.”