Haiti faces serious challenges in the drinking water and sanitation sector. As of 2020, only about 67% of the Haitian population were estimated to have access to at least basic water sources (i.e., improved sources within 30 minutes round trip collection time) [1]. Coverage has increased slightly in recent years, but it is still at the lowest rate among LAC countries, shows marked regional disparities (85% vs. 43% among urban vs. rural residents), and the supply is still discontinuous and unreliable. Only 15% of the urban population is connected to a piped water supply system and over 44% of rural households use unimproved or surface water (i.e., rivers, streams, etc.) sources. This deficiency has fostered the emergence of an expensive, unregulated private market that makes access to safe drinking water difficult for large segments of the population.

As of 2020, 57% of the rural population and 17% of the urban population did not have improved sanitation facilities and used, instead, rudimentary latrines or practiced open defecation. The improved sanitation facilities consisted, in most cases, in proper latrines or septic tanks.

Drainage infrastructure is also extremely limited. Only some of the largest cities (e.g., Port-au-Prince metropolitan area) have partial drainage network segments which are often non-operational due to lack of maintenance or are blocked by dumped solid waste. Wastewater is mostly discharged into poorly constructed pits or open channels or directly onto the streets. As no wastewater treatment plants exist, most wastewater ends up discharged untreated into aquatic ecosystems.

The lack of proper sanitation and sewerage collection and treatment systems can compromise the supply of drinking water as water sources get contaminated with human waste and other pollutants, exposing the population to parasites and waterborne diseases. Natural hazards exacerbate these issues, as latrines and road-side channels often overflow under heavy rains. The densely populated capital of Port-au-Prince is especially at risk of water-borne diseases, with many of its citizens residing on flood plains in poorly constructed housing with inadequate sanitation facilities. 

These issues can lead to serious public health problems, demonstrated by the cholera crisis of 2010. In fact, the mortality rate attributed to unsafe water, unsafe sanitation, and lack of hygiene (SDG indicator 3.9.2) was estimated at 23.8 per 100,000 people in 2016 [2], the highest rate in the LAC region.


Haiti’s water issues are due not so much to the availability of water resources but rather to a series of anthropogenic factors including widespread deforestation, overpopulation, and urbanization combined with poor management and governance, lack of financial and technical resources, and institutional weakness.

Haiti receives enough water to not suffer water scarcity problems. However, the extensive deforestation of the country’s watersheds has undermined the water infiltration capacities while increasing surface run-off. This makes several regions of the country experience flooding episodes even at the slightest downpour and, at the same time — and paradoxically —, it makes water relatively scarce as it leaves only about 12,000–14,000 million m3 of renewable water potentially available every year.

With a population of over 11 million people, this leaves only 1090–1300 m3 of water available per person per year. This indicates conditions of water stress (< 1700 m3/yr/person) although not chronic water scarcity (< 1000 m3/yr/person), which some parts of the country face for periods during the year. The lack of sanitation and wastewater collection and treatment systems further reduce the amount of usable water, as water sources get contaminated with human waste and other pollutants.

The fast population growth of the last twenty years has created a large demand for water supply and sanitation services far above the existent infrastructural and institutional capacities, especially in urban areas due to their rapid, unplanned, anarchic growth. The still rapidly growing population of Haiti, with high and increasing urbanization rates, and plans to further develop its industrial, agro-industrial, and tourism sectors will put significant additional pressures on the already scarce water resources and the already poor and failing sanitation and sewerage systems. Climate change is expected to reduce the availability and increase the variability of water resources, thus further straining the supply of water to the population. The frequency and intensity of hurricanes, floods, and droughts are also expected to increase, which could make the incidence of waterborne diseases even higher.

The lack of a policy and regulatory framework, weak planning and regulation, institutional weakness, and poor management have hampered the expansion of infrastructure improving the coverage and functioning of water supply and sanitation systems. Expanding and improving the infrastructure in rural areas is difficult due to technical limitations (e.g., access to electricity) and distance from communication routes. The public sector responsible for these themes lacks the financial and technical means to fulfil its mandate. In its absence, there has been a long, heavy reliance on international donors; most of the water supply and sanitation infrastructure and operation is technically or financially supported by multilateral organizations and bilateral partners. 


Key policies and governance approach

Until rather recently, Haiti lacked a national water resources management policy. The 2006 Framework Decree on Environmental Management and the Regulation of the Conduct of Citizens for Sustainable Development [3] simply transferred (Article 160) the regulatory and managerial functions of water resource management from the Ministry of Agriculture to the Ministry of the Environment.

With the adoption of the Framework Law on the Organization of the Drinking Water and Sanitation Sector [4] in 2009, a state agency responsible for formulating and implementing the national policy on drinking water and sanitation and regulating the sector was finally created, the National Directorate of Drinking Water and Sanitation (DINEPA).

DINEPA issued a first strategic guidance for sanitation in Haiti in March 2012, and a revised version was published in 2014. This second document constitutes the National Sanitation Strategy [5], it states the principles and general guidelines for sanitation interventions and defines the procedures for evaluating its implementation. A second revision of the National Sanitation Strategy was planned for 2018 but it does not seem to have been completed yet.


Successes and Remaining Challenges

Several efforts have been made recently or are ongoing to construct a much-needed policy and regulatory framework for Haiti’s water supply and sanitation sector. These developments still have to be implemented in the field, and the relevant institutions (e.g., DINEPA) have to fortify their capacities.

However, serious challenges have hampered progress. To begin with, in 2010, the then recently born DINEPA had to face unprecedent emergencies caused by the 2010 massive earthquake, followed by the impact of hurricane Thomas, and the cholera outbreak. This halted or significantly delayed implementation of the actions envisioned in the first action plans and slowed down the sectoral restructuring.

Given the critical political and socio-economic situation that the country has experienced during the last decade, it seems unlikely that the resources needed for implementation can be made available. Once again, the Government of Haiti is relying on international assistance to make further progress on these matters.

In fact, Haiti fared rather poorly in its latest progress report on SDG indicator 6.5.1. It scored below the regional average on all the four dimensions of Integrated Water Resources Management, namely, enabling environment, institutions and participation, management instruments, and financing. No progress in implementation was made from the previous report in 2017 and the latest one in 2020.


Initiatives and Development Plans

DINEPA is currently implementing the programme for Strengthening Local Governance of Drinking Water and Sanitation (REGLEAU) with funding from the Government of Switzerland. The REGLEAU programme intends to strengthen the management capacities of municipalities and DINEPA through better project management at the level of local authorities. The REGLEAU Programme will fortify local authorities and civil society organisations to ensure local governance that ensures accessible, affordable, sustainable, culturally acceptable, and non-discriminatory drinking water and sanitation services while encouraging the active participation of citizens, the involvement of the private sector and better political and financial commitment from the central government. Through the REGLEAU programme 150,000 new people will have access to drinking water and sanitation services, and 1,500,000 will have improved access.


Haiti’s water issues are mainly due to a series of anthropogenic factors including widespread deforestation, overpopulation, and urbanization combined with poor management and governance, lack of financial and technical resources, and institutional weakness.

  • A long-term, comprehensive vision of land-use planning and management such as the one envisioned in the 2012 Strategic Development Plan for Haiti,  including improved watershed management and conservation could help to address the root causes of these issues.
  • It was not until rather recently that a national water resources management policy and institutional framework (led by DINEPA) was created, but these developments still have to be implemented in the field and the relevant institutions have to fortify their capacities. Many of the required measures require of significant investments that the country would be unable to make and has to rely, again, on international assistance. The REGLEAU programme supported by the Swiss government could make a significant but perhaps insufficient contribution to address these issues