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A drop of hope for Haitians

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A drop of hope for Haitians

George Greene III of Water Missions inspects an inexpensive chlorination device that costs only $10 and could help significantly in Haiti.

Shortly after George Greene IV returned from Haiti to Charleston last week, he awoke in a pool of sweat.

"I literally at one point went and got a towel and put it back on my bed," said Greene, vice president of international programs for Water Missions International. "It was insane."

The perspiration wasn't triggered by memories of what he saw in the earthquake-ravaged nation. It stemmed from a 104-degree fever brought on by an infection that he and his father suffered during their visit.

It's just another occupational hazard that Greene and other members of Water Missions' team face as they scramble to establish safe sources of drinking water in Port-au-Prince's teeming tent cities.

The Charleston-based nonprofit already had a presence in the impoverished country for several years, though it wasn't until five days after the Jan. 12 quake that they were able to confirm -- via a Water Missions employee in Sri Lanka -- that their director in Haiti had survived.

Water Missions since has set up about 35 of its advanced treatment systems. The $25,000 apparatus is larger than a van and can take the foulest freshwater and make it safe to drink.

The agency also recently designed and received a small apparatus that costs only about $10 and can be attached to a working source of clear water. It plans to send 300 of them down soon.

Still, logistics remain a huge concern, one that will keep Water Missions' leaders cycling into the country a week or two at a time for the rest of the year.

Water Missions lost its Port-au-Prince headquarters in the quake and is building a new one. It has shipped two flatbed trucks, two regular pickups, two cars and two motorcycles to the country.

It has set up a 3,300-gallon tank on the roof of a water source near a camp that had about 40,000 people. And solar-powered pumps were installed to get other wells working.

The agency bought 11,000 pounds of rice and beans for an orphanage and has shipped five form sets, each of which can be used to construct a latrine a day. Former State Ports Authority director Bernie Groseclose has volunteered to help usher the equipment through Customs.

George Greene III and his wife Molly founded Water Missions nine years ago after they sold their successful engineering firm to work full time tackling the global water crisis. The Christian charity employs 80 people in eight countries, including 14 in the group's headquarters on the side of a West Ashley shopping center.

Water Missions is trying to respond to Haiti without scaling back its work elsewhere across the globe, and it was waiting Monday to learn from its relief partners whether it could play a constructive role following last weekend's earthquake in Chile.

Water Missions has not done it alone. Not only has it worked with larger relief agencies such as Samaritan's Purse and Operation Blessing, but it also has received assistance from the private sector beyond cash donations. For instance, FedEx has moved all the group's equipment to Haiti at no cost.

"The week I got there, our team took a water system into a camp that hadn't had clean water since the earthquake, and that had been five weeks," Greene III said.

The agency has received about $2.8 millions in donations since the Haiti quake, about half of which came from Lowcountry residents, businesses, schools and other groups. Greene III said 97 percent either has been sent or is in the process of being sent to the Caribbean nation.

But the need remains great.

"Ultimately, we're limited by funding," said Pat Haughney, director of international programs. "The need for water in Haiti is massive. … It rivals the tsunami in southeast Asia."

Water Missions hopes to install at least 60 to 100 more treatment systems.

The agency also will be looking to hire as many as 100 Haitians to work for $200 a month monitoring and maintaining the systems already in place.

"Some people say drinking water has been taken care of. You won't find a single Haitian who will say that," Greene III said. "The focus needs to be on those who are alive now, and it's a very desperate situation."

"The need is going to be greater than our funding, I'm certain." he said. "The finances are pretty fluid right now."

Donations already have dropped off more than a month after the quake, and Water Missions realizes that fresh water is far from the only challenge on the ground. Greene said he walked through camps where tents are separated by only a few feet, if that.

"We were in some camps where there was no latrine," he said. "When it starts raining, that waste is going to start running through the tents and shelters," Greene III said. "That's when you've got a serious problem."

An estimated 220,000 people died in the quake, but officials are worried about the thousands more who could be lost to cholera and other water-borne diseases in the coming months.

Greene III said one of the many images that stuck with him during his recent trip was the sight of a Haitian man using a saucepan to scoop water from a ditch into a 5-gallon bucket.

"The ditch was basically an open sewer," he said. "I hate to think of what he was going to do with that water."