Port Salut (Haiti) - With Haiti's rainy season looming, efforts are being stepped up to improve real-time monitoring in the flood-prone Port-à-Piment watershed in the south of the country to reduce the disaster risk for local communities.
Last October, major floods in the area left some communities completely isolated and forced to rely on emergency deliveries of food and medical supplies via helicopter.
As Haiti's South Department is mountainous and its steep slopes are severely deforested, there is little protection from heavy rains which flow into the many rivers, causing flash flooding and sweeping soil and sediment - and often crops, livelihoods and personal property - into the sea.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is among the 15 partners involved in the transformational Côte Sud Initiative (CSI), a sustainable development initiative with a 20 year vision focused on achieving large-scale lasting change in Haiti's South Department.
As the existing baseline data on the rivers and groundwater of Côte Sud is too limited to inform plans and investments in water resource management, the CSI partners are introducing continuous field data collection to improve understanding of the behaviour of the river systems and enable improved flood risk reduction.
Researchers from the Earth Institute, also a CSI partner, have led the installation of climate monitoring stations and rain gauges, piloted a mobile water quality testing laboratory, and installed new river monitoring stations in the larger regional rivers.
The climate monitoring stations measure rainfall, wind speed and direction, atmospheric pressure, solar radiation, relative humidity and temperature, transmitting real-time data to the internet via satellite.
With data from the newly installed equipment, the CSI team will be able to determine how quickly a storm in the mountains will have an impact on communities downstream, particularly those who live in flood-prone areas near sea level or close to eroding banks.
A collaborative approach between CSI partners and local and national authorities, including Haiti's Ministry of Agriculture, has ensured joint management of the equipment's installation and shared understanding of the long-term use of the data by all partners.
Speaking from Port Salut on World Water Day (22 March), UNEP's Haiti Country Programme Manager, Antonio Perera, said the new monitoring system - a first for the region - is vitally important in the development of accurate early warning systems for residents living in the watershed.
"The monitoring equipment allows the 'pulse' of water to be measured as it passes monitoring points and should contribute to protecting livelihoods, public safety and health," Mr Perera said.
During floods, contaminated water can result in the spread of sickness, as evidenced by an observed rise in the number of cholera cases after the floods last October.
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