Safe water is desperately scarce in storm-ravaged portion of the Philippines. Without it, people struggling to rebuild and even survive risk catching intestinal and other diseases.
While aid agencies work to provide a steady supply, survivors have resorted to scooping from streams, catching rainwater in buckets and smashing open pipes to obtain what is left from disabled pumping stations. With at least 600,000 people homeless, the demand is massive.
Thousands of other people who sought shelter under the solid roof of the Tacloban City Astrodome also must improvise, taking water from wherever they can — a broken water pipe or a crumpled tarp. The water is salty and foul tasting but it is all many have had for days.
The U.S. Institute of Medicine defines an adequate daily intake of fluids as roughly 3 litres (100 ounces) for men and about 2.2 litres (75 ounces) for women. Given the shortages and hot climate, it’s certain that most in the disaster zone aren’t getting anything like those amounts, leaving them prone to energy-sapping dehydration.
Providing clean, safe drinking water is key to preventing the toll of dead and injured from rising in the weeks after a major natural disaster. Not only do survivors need to stay hydrated, they also need to be protected from waterborne diseases such as cholera and typhus.
It took several days for aid groups to bring large quantities of water to Tacloban, the eastern Philippine city where the typhoon wreaked its worst destruction. By Friday, tankers were arriving.
Water provisioning should get a big boost with the recent arrival of the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS George Washington, a virtual floating city with a distillation plant that can produce 1.5 million litres (400,000 gallons) of fresh water per day — enough to supply 2,000 homes, according to the ship’s website.
Britain also is sending an aircraft carrier, the HMS Illustrious, with seven helicopters and facilities to produce fresh water, Britain’s Ministry of Defence said. It said the ship is expected to reach the area about Nov. 25.
Filtration systems are now operating in Tacloban, the centre of the relief effort, and two other towns in Leyte province, the hardest-hit area. Helicopters are dropping bottled water along with other relief supplies to more isolated areas.
Other more high-tech water purification solutions are also available, such as water purification bottles developed since the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that devastated parts of Thailand, Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka. Those contain systems that filter out parasites, bacteria and other dangerous substances from virtually any water source, making it safe to drink and alleviating the high cost and logistical difficulties that shipping in bottled water entails.
Longer-term water solutions will come once the crucial issues of shelter and security are settled and will likely have to wait several months, said John Saunders, of the U.S.-based International Association of Emergency Managers. Those water systems are far more complex, requiring expensive, specialised equipment and training for operators, he said.