Water Industry Responds to Tsunami Disaster

My wife showed me a picture she found on the Internet of the Tsunami wave approaching an un-named city. Apparently taken from a tall building or airplane...

By James Laughlin

My wife showed me a picture she found on the Internet of the Tsunami wave approaching an un-named city. Apparently taken from a tall building or airplane, the picture showed the wave looming over a busy highway, clogged with cars, beside a beach-front resort.

"What would you do if you saw a wave like that coming toward you," she asked?

Several glib answers came to mind, but after thinking a minute the only reasonable answer was, "There's nothing you could do."

There really was nothing those poor souls on the beach could do that terrible day, but there is something the water community can down now.

As public health officials in countries affected by the recent tsunami work to prevent large-scale water-related disease outbreaks, many water utilities, equipment companies and other water professionals are looking for ways to help through expertise or donations.

In mid January the World Health Organization said it needed $60 million to prevent outbreaks of waterborne and other infectious diseases in tsunami-hit areas around the Indian Ocean. The organization warned that access to safe drinking water was vital in preventing disease outbreaks.

Dirty drinking and washing water combined with lack of proper sewage disposal, they said, are a recipe for explosive outbreaks of life-threatening diarrhea diseases such as cholera, typhoid and dysentery, as well as some forms of hepatitis.

"WHO fears that outbreaks of infectious disease could result in a similar number of fatalities as occurred due to the direct impact of the tsunami," the U.N. health agency said in a statement.

"We now estimate that as many as 150,000 people are at extreme risk, if a major disease outbreak in the affected areas occurs," said WHO Director-General Dr. Lee Jong-wook. "We are extremely concerned about the ongoing lack of access to basic needs."

The most urgent need is to make sure that the 5 million people affected by the tsunami have access to safe drinking water, Lee said. Besides water and sanitation, other priorities include shelter, food and basic medical services so that if people do get sick they can be treated quickly, reducing the risk that diseases will spread.

Water for People (WFP), established through AWWA in 1991, is available to help utilities and others in identifying relief agencies that are responding to the tsunami disaster and in determining the type of work being done by each organization.

WFP is currently serving as a liaison between the North American water industry and international relief organizations. WFP has offered to find water professionals who can go to help with technical assessments, engineering consulting, water quality evaluation, and other technical assistance. They are also working to find small scale, low-tech water purification and treatment equipment or other systems for the groups that are asking for help.

If you are interested in learning more about these efforts, please visit WFP's web site, www.waterforpeople.org, or call Water for People at 800-926-7337.

WFP is currently accepting donations for long-term water and sanitation development projects in the 13 affected countries. If you would like to donate to long-term efforts, please contact Steve Werner at swerner@waterforpeople.org.

James Laughlin, Editor

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