Ed Buckley helps turn on taps in Haiti
Published in 2017 Georgia Super Lawyers magazine on February 21, 2017
While reading The Price of Loyalty, which chronicles Paul O’Neill’s tenure as treasury secretary in the Bush administration, Ed Buckley was inspired by an AIDS mission O’Neill took to Africa.
“While O’Neill was there, he noticed that there was a terrible water shortage,” Buckley says. “He did some back-of-the-envelope calculations about how cheap it would be to put in wells. He went back all excited to George W. Bush and said, ‘This is something that can have maximum impact with a fairly nominal amount of money!’ Bush wasn’t interested.”
But Buckley was. And after exploring nonprofits in Jamaica and Honduras, he set his sights on Haiti—the most impoverished country in the Western hemisphere, and one in desperate need of clean water.
In 2005, he went there with Delane Bailey, a project manager with the nonprofit Food for the Poor, to see about putting in “a few wells.”
“She took me to the top of a small mountain, walked me to the edge and threw her hand out over all the tin roofs and said, ‘These people need clean water,’” Buckley remembers. “She said she wanted to build a reservoir. I said, ‘How much?’ She said $100,000. I didn’t have $100,000. So naturally, I said, ‘Sure.’”
Soon after returning, Buckley, an employment and civil rights attorney with Buckley Beal in Atlanta, obtained a large legal fee and dedicated a portion of it to the reservoir. “We ended up doing that project, providing clean water for about 50,000 people.”
But that wasn’t enough. Armed with funds raised from “anyone who would listen,” he founded the nonprofit Water Life Hope, which to date has funded and built 330 artesian wells; each provides potable water to up to 5,000 people.
Buckley says the challenges Haiti faces are plenty: from a poorly run government to a lack of access to education; but location might be its most difficult hurdle.
“They’ve had hurricanes many times,” he says. “By the time they get to the U.S., they get reduced to tropical storms; down there, it’s full force.”
The latest, Hurricane Matthew, decimated the southern portion of the country. “Over a thousand people were killed,” he says. “A lot of our projects were down there, and I’m still trying to find out what survived, and planning a trip to go down. We’re also in the course of raising funds to assist with hurricane relief, particularly with getting clean water to people because the cholera epidemic is poking up again.”
The benefits of clean water go beyond the obvious. “By having potable water accessible, women and children don’t have to hike for half a day to find it, which takes them away from productive activities: commerce, school,” Buckley says. “Not to mention, when you’re hiking a long distance, there are hazards along the highway. Women and children are more subject to being raped and assaulted. So women in these communities become empowered with access to water. They spend their time building a community.
“If you go to the United Nations’ website,” he adds, “they list the 10 most important human rights. The cornerstone right, to me, is the right to potable water. If you’ve got parasites writhing in your belly, you can’t enjoy the right to a good education, you can’t enjoy the right to work, you can’t enjoy the right to speak, and you might not be able to enjoy the right to live.”
While Buckley arranges for professionals to dig the wells, he still likes to pitch in and get his hands dirty. But his real joy is watching the faces of the people he helps.
“The idea of turning on a tap in most of Haiti that I go into and having water come out … it’s the equivalent of magic to them. The folks can’t fathom it,” he says. “So when they see it happen, they throw the greatest parties. I really enjoy the children. Their spirit is infectious.”
Unfortunately, Buckley sees no end to the problem in sight.
“About a billion people in the world lack potable water,” Buckley says. “In Haiti alone, it’s somewhere around 4.5 million people. We probably made an impact to 450,000 people. There’s plenty of work to be done.”