Water a pressing concern for typhoon survivors in Philippines

By Kristen Gelineau

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Nov. 16 2013 8:24 p.m. MST

Filipino youths walk to collect water at a neighborhood badly ravaged by Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban, Philippines, Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013. Typhoon Haiyan, one of the most powerful storms on record, hit the country's eastern seaboard Nov. 8, leaving a wide swath of destruction.

Dita Alangkara, Associated Press

TACLOBAN, Philippines — Since the typhoon hit, Danny Estember has been hiking three hours round-trip into the mountains each day to obtain what he can only hope is clean water for his five daughters and two sons.

The exhausting journey is necessary because safe water is desperately scarce in this storm-ravaged portion of the Philippines. Without it, people struggling to rebuild and even survive risk catching intestinal and other diseases that can spread if they're unable to wash properly.

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.

"I'm thirsty and hungry. I'm worried — no food, no house, no water, no money," said Estember, a 50-year-old ambulance driver.

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 liters (100 ounces) for men and about 2.2 liters (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 typhoid.

Haiti's devastating January 2010 earthquake was followed by a cholera outbreak in October 2011 that health officials say has killed more than 8,000 people and sickened nearly 600,000. The two events were not linked. Some studies have shown that cholera may have been introduced in Haiti by U.N. troops from Nepal, where the disease is endemic.

Washing regularly, using latrines and boiling drinking water are the best ways to avoid contracting diarrhea and other ailments that could burden already stressed health services.

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. Philippine Red Cross workers sluiced water into enormous plastic bladders attached to faucets from which people fill jerry cans, buckets, bottles and whatever other containers they might have.

"I'm thirsty," said Lydia Advincula, 54, who for the last few days had been placing buckets out doors to catch some of the torrential downpours that have added to the misery of homeless storm survivors.

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 liters (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 Defense said. It said the ship is expected to reach the area about Nov. 25.

Filtration systems are now operating in Tacloban, the center 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.

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