Friday, December 31, 2004

From All Corners, a Rush to Get Clean Drinking Water to Survivors in Stricken Areas

The important of safe drinking water cannot be felt till situation like these. While in America, although we are not affected by these, but the heart pains is felt.

Maintening the safety of Drinking water cannot be overlook even during the normal days of life.

From All Corners, a Rush to Get Clean Drinking Water to Survivors in Stricken Areas

Tanker trucks, bottled water, pumps, disinfecting kits and clean jugs are being rushed to regions struck by the tsunami in hopes of providing what survivors most urgently need: safe drinking water.

Severe shortages exist in all the affected regions, but reports from health officials suggest that the situation may be the most dire in Indonesia and the Maldives.

"Nobody was prepared for a disaster of this magnitude," said Vanessa Tobin, chief of water and sanitation for Unicef.

She said millions of water-purification tablets were being sent to the affected countries.

Unicef already had large storage tanks for water in India and has moved some of them to affected areas in the south and east, said a Unicef spokesman, Alfred Ironside. The tanks can be set up in communities and then refilled by tanker trucks, he said. Families are then given clean jerry cans to carry their own supplies.

"In the early days, a family may have to walk a mile or two inland to where water systems were not affected by flood waters," Mr. Ironside said. "The jerry cans are good for that." But he added that the system was in place mainly in India and in Sri Lanka, not in Indonesia, the scene of much of the worst devastation.

Conditions vary, he said. In parts of Indonesia, for instance, the floodwaters surged as far as two miles inland. In Sri Lanka, the waves came inland between a few hundred yards and half a mile or so.

"Not much further inland, everything is functioning," he said. That means clean water is available nearby, but must be transported to the people who need it.

"A lot of homegrown solutions are happening," Mr. Ironside said. "Private donors of all kinds are driving in with bottled water, especially in Sri Lanka and India."

A team from an independent disaster-aid group, Medair, is expected to arrive today in the Ampara district in eastern Sri Lanka, across the island from the capital city, Colombo, said Robert Schofield, a spokesman for the group. The team was bringing medical supplies, chemicals for water purification, a doctor and a water and sanitation engineer.

"Around Ampara is one of the worst-affected areas," Mr. Schofield said in a telephone interview from the group's headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland. He added that 177,000 people, displaced by destruction along the coast, had fled about 12 miles inland and set up camps around Ampara, because it is the largest town in the vicinity. Medair reports that 120 camps have cropped up; the World Health Organization estimates the number at 500.

"We hope also to be able to chlorinate wells that have been contaminated," Mr. Schofield said.

One problem in Sri Lanka is that many wells - 1,000, according to Unicef - have been contaminated by salt water, which must be pumped out to let fresh water in.

"We're bringing in pumps to clean out the wells," Mr. Ironside said. He said that the government in Sri Lanka had requested several dozen pumps and that Unicef was shipping the dozen or so it already had on hand.

Mr. Schofield said Medair hoped to drill new wells, with a new technique that uses tubing and a high-pressure jet of water as the drill bit, to penetrate about 20 feet into the earth to find clean water. The technique works only in soft or sandy soil, not rock, and has worked well in Madagascar and Darfur.

"We hope we can hit a part of the water table that hasn't been affected by salt water," he said.

Contaminated water or sea water can be used for the drilling, and the same tubing that pumped it in can then be used to pump out the clean water.

"It's a simple technology," Mr. Schofield said. "It requires just simple tubes and a generator."

Portable desalting machines may also be used where salt water has contaminated wells, Mr. Ironside said. The machines are small enough to fit in the cargo holds of an airplane and to be transported by truck. The Maldives may need them most, he said.

"I think they have the most difficulty with fresh water sources to begin with," Mr. Ironside said. "They're small islands, in these atolls, and the wells are not so replenishable if they get salt water in them.

"The information is still somewhat anecdotal, but it appears that on 17 or 18 islands in the Maldives, there is literally no water at all. They are having to bring it in by ship." Read More...
The New York Times > International > International Special > From All Corners, a Rush to Get Clean Drinking Water to Survivors in Stricken Areas

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