Typhoon Haiyan: Protecting Water, Protecting Life
Water, water everywhere, but not a (clean) drop to drink. Like a tropical paradise, Leyte Island in the Philippines has some of the most pristine mountain spring water in the world, the high clay content of the soil one of the best natural water filters on Earth. Yet in a journey of a mere kilometre or two to the barangays [districts], the water is contaminated even before reaching taps.
Simply tackling the water system issue is like dressing a wound without removing the bullet; water systems are only part of the equation. The other part is sanitation, and at Save the Children the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) team addresses the entire picture for water, both clean and dirty, and how it relates to health.
Save the Children has done rapid assessments in over 100 barangays across seven municipalities in Leyte,and has determined that many communities are dependent on community-level water supply systems, where the water sometimes comes from unsafe or unprotected water sources or relies on pipe networks that are heavily damaged and leaking, or a combination of these cases. We will be doing an in-depth follow up to assess the options for improving water sources, repairing the pipe network, or perhaps reconfiguring the existing system.
Currently, most communities with existing water systems have unburied pipe networks, running in ditches or in concrete culverts that also carry runoff from the surrounding area. In a place where more than 60 percent of the population lack latrines, open defecation is common practice. As water pipelines are usually running downhill, they are very susceptible to contamination due to damaged pipe connections.
Repairs on their own won’t solve the problem: the community needs help setting up a system to make sure the network remains operational, and there also needs to be a cleaning schedule, including shock chlorine treatment once a year for the spring box and storage tank. This schedule has to include an action plan for a diarrhoea outbreak, with chlorine treatments to limit cross-contamination.
Water is the lifeblood of civilisation. Empires rise and fall at its tide; grand engineering marvels are built to transport it; wars are fought and blood spilled over this precious liquid. Yet in the simplest terms, clean water near home means more time to spend with your family because you don’t need to walk kilometres to assuage their thirst; it means not having to worry about your family getting sick through what they drink. Water is Life.