U engineers must wait to help Haiti

Engineers Without Borders postponed plans to help the sanitation problem.

mackenzie collins

The University of Minnesota student group Engineers Without Borders (EWB) would have been in Haiti on Jan. 12 when the magnitude-7 earthquake hit its capitol had they not decided to postpone their trip in December. The organization planned to work out of the northern coastal city of Cap-Haïtien during winter break to help solve the sanitation problem caused by the dumping of human feces in drains in the cityâÄôs slum. EWB is a national organization that partners with disadvantaged communities around the world to improve their quality of life by creating engineered projects that are both environmentally and economically sustainable. The UniversityâÄôs chapter has eight such projects in Uganda, Haiti, Guatemala and the United States. Residents of the Cap-Haïtien slum of Shada often come in contact with ascaris, a roundworm that lays eggs in human feces. Food can become contaminated from the feces that are dumped into the slumâÄôs poor drainage system. To combat the health problem in Shada, the group designed a toilet mold that can form multiple toilets out of concrete âÄî a material that is extremely cheap in Haiti, said Richard Barnes, student vice president of the UniversityâÄôs EWB. The group specifically designed the toilets to be inexpensive for the slum, located in the most impoverished nation in the Western Hemisphere. âÄúTwelve percent of children in Haiti die of diarrheal diseases before theyâÄôre 5, and thatâÄôs a countrywide statistic,âÄù Barnes said. âÄúAnd weâÄôre working in a place where there are no toilets, so the rates are much higher there.âÄù Barnes and seven others had planned to travel to Cap-Haïtien to deliver and test the mold during winter break, but during fall semesterâÄôs finals decided not to because the mold had not been perfected. The original mold, built from fiberglass, could not stand up to both the abrasive nature of concrete and the repetitive process of pouring the concrete into the mold, Barnes said. Barnes and seven other group members wanted to test the toilet mold in the United States and possibly build a second mold so there was less of a possibility that the trip would go wrong. The group will meet this week to discuss its chapterâÄôs future plans regarding the toilet mold project and others in Haiti. The group is awaiting a decision from the national EWB organization on its policy toward travels to Haiti for local chapters. After the devastating quake, it is unclear whether the group will be allowed to enter Haiti, and if so, what types of restrictions it must follow. Eight EWB members traveled to Haiti in May, where EWB member Eric OâÄôHara said he learned about the poverty and community in Haiti. âÄúThereâÄôs a shock period, but you come to terms with it,âÄù OâÄôHara said. âÄúYou accept it and are endowed with a sense and drive to contribute to help.âÄù Senior Justin Konen was the project group leader and said he has a positive outlook for the reconstruction of Haiti. The culture has a strong sense of community, he said, because when someone lives in such a small country, people lean on their neighbors for support. âÄúFrom a cultural standpoint, they can pull it together. From a political standpoint, no; and from a material standpoint, absolutely not,âÄù Konen said.