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The Global Water Crisis: Conflict and Cooperation

This past week, I attended a conference jointly sponsored by Villanova University and Catholic Relief Services as part of their formal partnership. The conference was called The Global Water Crisis: Conflict and Cooperation. The presenters were Environmentalists, Civil Engineers Health Specialists, Economists, Sanitation and Water Resource Experts, Lawyers and Peacebuilders… all from the University, CRS and private industry. Within the Villanova University, it was Co-Sponsored by the Colleges of Engineering, Arts and Sciences, Nursing, Schools of Business and Law, the Office of Mission and Ministry, the Center for Peace and Justice Education and the Honors Program, the Department of Geography and the Environment.

One of the presenters from CRS was Thomas Bamat, Ph.D. Senior Technical Advisor, Justice and Peacebuilding. Prior to coming to CRS, he said had been with Maryknoll for 20 years.

CRS is clear that they cannot establish themselves in any activity without embracing the principles of peacebuilding. They learned this the hard way in Rwanda when they had to do soul searching about their long-term presence there doing technical work and people (Catholics who worshipped together weekly) started killing each other. Here are their principles

Peacebuilding Principles

  1. Responds to the root causes of violent conflict, including unjust relationships and structures, in addition to addressing its effects and symptoms.
  2. Is based on long-term commitment.
  3. Uses a comprehensive approach that focuses on grassroots while strategically engaging actors at middle-range and top levels of leadership.
  4. Requires an in-depth and participatory analysis.
  5. Provides a methodology to achieve right relationships that should be integrated into all programming.
  6. Strategically includes advocacy at local, national and global levels to transform unjust structures and systems.
  7. Builds upon indigenous non-violent approaches to conflict transformation and reconciliation.
  8. Is driven by community-defined needs and involves as many stakeholders as possible.
  9. Is done through partners who represent the diversity of where we work and share common values.
  10. Strengthens and contributes to a vibrant civil society that promotes peace.

In the evening, Ken Hackett, President of CRS and Dennis B. Warner, Ph.D., Senior Technical Advisor, Water Supply, Sanitation and Water Resources Development, CRS spoke on The Challenge of Water in Haiti. There is no good news about Haiti. Ken Hackett who has been in terrible areas around the world over his years of working in area of relief said that he has never seen anything so terrible as this...and almost one year later. CRS is working with some partners in home construction (Habitat for Humanity and The Adventists) but the progress is slow. The process must be transparent and the structures must meet code requirements. CRS is committed to paying Haitians for work, not using contractors from outside Haiti. The economy needs to have people working to be able to support marketplaces, etc. The difficulty in Haiti is that the urban areas are congested with so many people, it is hard to get heavy equipment in to remove debris and to clear any area for building. People have also had to provide evidence that they own the property to be restored....that it does not belong to some absentee landlord or that they were squatters.

CRS is working to rebuild a hospital and then clinics that will be connected to the hospital and have teams of doctors and nurses who come out of the University of Notre Dame of Haiti Medical school rotate through the clinics. This is a long term project to build a comprehensive health care system in Haiti.

CRS is committed to Haiti over the long-haul. They are also working to rebuild some churches that are so vital to the communities. They are partnering with the Church in Haiti. In all cases, the Haitian people are taking the lead with CRS support.

The biggest issues in Haiti concerning water is sanitation. Teaching and reinforcing hand washing is critical. There is so much fecal contamination from the close living that this is very hard. They are building concrete reinforced latrines since the ground is such that dirt latrines cave in.

We were reminded that Haiti was broken before the earthquake. They have no real government systems in place. After the earthquake, well meaning medical people came from all over but because many were not organized and skilled in this type of disaster medicine, many of the surgeries they performed have had to be redone by teams of trauma people which now rotate in from U.S. Medical Centers. Their presence also pushed aside the Haitian doctors and nurses who were left unemployed. Far more people could have been saved if large amounts of antibiotics had been sent in early on. CRS has been in Haiti for over 50 years. They were a first responder because they had supplies in warehouses in the rural areas. Again, we were reminded that the best of intentions can have not the best of responses and outcomes. Ken said that people should not think about coming to Haiti to help out. The people who can help out need to come from highly skilled teams. The best thing that we can do is keep Haiti on the radar screen in the media. We have short attention spans.

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