Clean Water in a Time of Disaster

U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Daniel Bowles
Can We Provide Clean Water Without the Plastic Waste?
International World Water Day is held on March 22 each year. But does one day dedicated to such a massive global crisis—the lack of clean drinking water—really lead to change? Despite a recent U.N. poll suggesting that Americans want the U.S. government to support clean water and sanitation in developing countries, the leading cause of death among children in Africa is still diarrhea and diseases like typhoid, cholera, E. coli and salmonella, mostly caused by unsafe drinking water. Nearly one billion people, one-sixth of the world’s population, still lack access to clean water.

Now, more than a week since the catastrophic 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami hit Japan, the U.N is reporting survivors are becoming sick with diarrhea because of inadequate water and sanitation. According to Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, 1.6 million households do not have drinking water as relief efforts are hampered by fuel and water supply shortages, the ongoing nuclear crisis, mangled roads and extraordinarily cold weather. Other government sources estimate that as many as 2.5 million households could be affected. The ministry is distributing bottled water and is sending hundreds of water supply vehicles to Miyagi, Fukushima, and Iwate, three areas that were heavily hit by the twin catastrophes.

Relief efforts across the globe are also sending Japan cases of bottled water. But the distribution of water bottles following disasters like the 7.0 earthquake that struck Haiti in early 2010 also result in a great deal of waste. According to a recent article in The Economist, a big sewage channel runs through Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, and is heading for the sea. The channel is clogged deep with plastic bottles, garbage and human feces. But since no one has determined why the channel was blocked in the first place, it continues to re-clog.

Many nonprofit water organizations emphasize that the sustainable way to provide water to those in need is through low-cost and effective water filtration systems. Unlike water bottles, filters can provide clean water for a family of 10 for up to five years, and the systems generally cost less than $40. The Mobile MaxPure unit from WorldWater and Solar Technologies provides 30,000 gallons of safe drinking water to disaster victims every day for less than $0.01 per gallon, compared to an average cost of $1/gallon to supply bottled water. The LifeStraw water filter costs just a few dollars, removes disease-causing microorganisms, and provides approximately one year of clean water consumption for one person.

This year, let’s tackle our global water crisis beyond World Water Day. By supporting nonprofit organizations that provide water filters in times of relief over bottled water, we’re ensuring clean water is with those who need it most for years to come.