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19th February 2020
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Water catastrophe

Posted 13/11/2013 by sevans

Of all the many harrowing images that followed the news of Typhoon Haiyan this week, one of the most shocking was surely the TV news coverage of people resorting to filtering water into a bucket through a strip of cloth on the street. For those caught up in a natural disaster, water security becomes a top priority, more important even than food and shelter. Without safe and reliable sources of water, many more thousands of people are at risk of death or disease as a result. Yet time and again as every new disaster unfolds on our TV screens, we see reports of people struggling to find access to this basic human need.

The big question for most C&I readers, as for most other educated members of the general public, must surely be why? Judging by the number of stories in the magazine, there would appear to be no end of cheap and simple technologies available for water purification. Solar disinfection or SODIS, for example, requires no more than a PET plastic bottle and sunlight to effectively kill bacteria responsible for most waterborne diseases, as well as most viruses, protozoa and their cysts (C&I, 6, 42, 2013). Alternatively, other reports have involved using seeds, nanoparticles or even scraps of plastic.

Countries such as the Philippines are not so poor that they cannot afford to invest in effective water security measures. An average of 19 typhoons – known locally as bagyos – hit the country every year, according to an entry on Wikipedia. 

About 10,000 people are already thought to have been killed when Typhoon Haiyan struck at the weekend. Around 4.5m more people are estimated to have been affected. The humanitarian aid will no doubt run into many millions. What is needed, however, is not just money but education. People need to be taught how to better respond and cope in an emergency situation – and be given the necessary basic tools for survival in the event.

Preventing natural disasters from occurring is beyond the realms of current technology, but we can now predict with reasonable accuracy when most of them will occur. Couldn’t more be done, then, to protect those affected from some of the inevitable consequences? Surely, there has to be a better solution than filtering water through a tee shirt?

Cath O’Driscoll - Deputy editor

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