By Jean H Charles
I had the suspicion that Cape Haitian was one of the most beautiful cities in the world. That suspicion was confirmed by the American ambassador to Haiti, Mrs Pamela White who made the same observation in a speech recently.
Built by the French colonists with perpendicular lines going from one to 26 and horizontally from the letter A to M, Cape Haitian is a truly attractive city, with colonial houses lining the streets that are reminiscent of old San Juan in Puerto Rico, Santiago de Caballeros of the Dominican Republic or Santiago de Chile.
Cape Haitian has been living without running water for the past 14 years, due to governmental upheaval in the country in the past 50 years. That inconvenience did not affect the population that much, because each house has a well that provides ample water for daily use.
For the first time in the last 500 years, (300 years of colonial rule and 200 years of self-rule) the wells are dry, with no water. There has not been sufficient rain in the past year to maintain the balance of reserve water that could be pumped out for daily use.
Cape Haitian, a city of some one million people, has been dangerously managing itself without water for the past two years. I used to buy my water from a smart citizen who built its artesian well as he was constructing his home. On my last trip to Cape Haitian he stopped selling its water because the electric company is charging him so much money for running the pump to bring up the water, that his business is not sustainable.
There is nonchalance in the air, DINEPA, the water company funded by Spain’s ministry of foreign development, is delaying its operation of repairing the pipes because the private water companies are making so much money selling and distributing water that they can dictate the policy and the rule.
The predatory nature of the past governments have been so crude that a water tank that held 1.86 million gallons of water, built by the Magloire government in the 1950s, has been dismantled and sold as scrap to Turkey via the Dominican Republic without investigation of why it could not be repaired as some German experts had suggested.
Water, I have written in one my essays, is the salt of the earth. I have observed in the past year in my home in Port au Prince, I could not prevent my trees and my flowers from dying as they were enduring a severe dry season in this past year.
I have to admit that I was not correct when I predicted that Haiti has two seasons: a rainy season from April to November, when it rains every night; and a dry season from November to April. This year the rain came in May, sporadically, and stopped until this August when we started again to have some rain.
In another essay, I warned that Haiti cannot continue to play Russian roulette with its environment; I stated that bad policy leads to catastrophic results. Travelling the country and taking the National Highway 3 to Cape Haitian, I observed that Haiti is a country that could be defined as 90% not habited and 90% not cultivated. You will see vast plains with few trees to be seen as far as the horizon, and very few houses; this is the vista in a full four-hour drive from the capital, Port au Prince to the city of Cape Haitian via the Center state on the road still under construction donated by the European Union.
Yet Haiti could become the place where fine construction material would come from: the cedars of Lebanon, the mahogany of Indonesia, the ebony of Nigeria would do well in those vast plateaus, while interlaced with golf courses for those aficionados who love nature and sports, providing Haiti with an perpetual endowment fund that would make each citizen “rich like a Creole”.
The rain does not come magically; it is a natural operation of the condensation of the leaves of the trees that send moisture into the air, forming the clouds that send back the rain on earth. When there are not trees there will be no rain.
Haiti is eating its seeds, neglecting to plant trees. I have seen during my different trips how a giant mango tree on the side of the road has been gently cut until it falls down, to be burned for charcoal. It is a true commodity that will bring safe money when wealth creation is not part of the equation.
I met with the mayor of Cape Haitian, an old gentleman who reminds me of the good old manner that characterized the Haitian citizen before the country went into its democratization revolution, I shared with him my apprehension about a city without water.
I enjoy my stays in Cape Haitian, where I try to come back as often as I can. A delightful city where the market is in the center of the town; early in the morning you can pick up your own fresh fruits and vegetable from the farmer who comes from neighborhood towns. You are woken up by itinerant singing merchants trying to sell their wares from door to door.
Cape Haitian is safe at night and during the day. Its potential for a tourist city is beyond imagination as its international airport will open this October.
It is closed to some of the major world events that destroyed slavery for the entire humanity. Its charm is contagious, as it is a homely town with the pretention of a sophisticated city
My morning run leads me to the Rival beach where I play like a child in a warm sea that engulfs you like the womb of a mother. How long will this jewel remain an innocent setting as the quest for water becomes more intolerable?
Maybe I am just a Cassandra! Without running water, with the wells running dry in Cape Haitian, the disaster is what feed the helpers. Poor Haiti, will you ever know a normal life?