Hurricanes along the Atlantic seaboard. Wildfires in the Amazon and sub-Saharan Africa. Floods in India, and the threat of heatwaves in Europe. Sometimes it feels like we’re always on the brink of another disaster, but each of these tragic events has one thing in common — survivors that will need shelter, food and most importantly, clean water to survive while they wait for things to get back to normal. Why is clean water so essential for disaster relief?
Hydration is Critical
Hydration is always an essential part of our lives, regardless of what is going on around us, but during a disaster, it becomes even more critical. Depending on the situation, you may be sitting in sweltering heat because the power is out, which causes you to need more water even if you’re not active. If you’re evacuating, removing debris, or working to restore your home, you’ll need to drink more water.
One important thing to remember, especially during an emergency when you might have other things on your mind, is that if you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. Keep drinking steadily throughout the day to make sure you’re hydrated.
Water Utilities Might Fail
Two primary utilities fall victim to disasters — electricity and water. Many places that are prone to disasters like hurricanes are used to losing power for days or week at a time, but most are still able to turn on a faucet to get water or flush their toilet without having to refill the tank manually. If water utilities fail, having clean water supplies on hand, or the ability to sterilize rainwater or other natural sources of water will be the only way you can stay hydrated.
The CDC recommends having at least one gallon of water available per person or pet per day while you wait for water services to be restored. In general, they’re going to use half of that for drinking and the other half for washing, brushing their teeth, or other hygiene-related activities. That means if you have a family of four with two pets, you’re going to need a minimum of six gallons a day for at least three days, perhaps longer.
Prevents Disease Exposure
Even if your water company keeps things flowing during a disaster, the water might not be safe to drink. If the power is out, that means that the water treatment plant doesn’t have the energy it needs to treat your drinking water before it comes to your home. Add that to the fact that hurricanes and other storms bring torrential rains that can cause flooding, allowing different materials to contaminate the local drinking water supplies.
If your water utility is still functioning during or after a disaster, be sure to bring any water you’re going to use for drinking, cooking, or hygiene to a rolling boil for at least one minute to ensure that there are no microbial contaminants that could make you sick.
Necessary for Sanitation
Having access to clean water for drinking and sanitation is considered a fundamental human right, but it’s not always possible during a disaster. Without water for flushing toilets, washing dishes, and showering, there is an increased risk of spreading diseases like cholera.
More than half of the population of the planet lives without access to safe sanitation services, and 2.2 billion don’t have safe water to drink. While a disaster might not set your community back this far, without enough clean water to ensure proper sanitation, there is the possibility that a lack of clean drinking water or sanitation services could cause an outbreak of diseases that aren’t typically found in the developed world. After Hurricanes Allison and Katrina, survivors experienced higher cases of norovirus, salmonella, and both toxigenic and nontoxigenic V. cholera were found in the survivors. Many of these individuals spent days or weeks in shelters without proper sanitation supplies or access to enough clean water.
In the event of severe disasters, it might take days or weeks to restore water services, and even longer than that for things to get back to normal. Clean water is essential to prevent the spread of disease after a disaster.
Securing Clean Water Supplies
If you’ve got a hurricane heading your way, or are worried about the possibility of an impending disaster, what can you do to secure clean water supplies?
Start by stocking up. Again, one gallon of water per person or pet per day. Bottled water, either in individual bottles, gallons, or larger containers, can all be stored for up to six months before they need to be rotated. If you’re worried about spending large amounts of money on water storage, purchase refillable containers and fill them from your tap.
You may also need a way to sterilize your tap water after a disaster if the integrity of the water system is compromised. There are a few simple ways to achieve this. First, you’ve got the option to bring the water to a rolling boil for one minute to kill any bacteria or viruses in the water. You can also use water sanitization tablets — available in the camping section of most stores — or even simple household bleach to make your water safe to drink. Having non-potable water like rainwater or contaminated tapwater on hand could be useful for flushing toilets to help with sanitation concerns.
Fortunately these days there are a good variety of inexpensive filter and /or water purification options to choose from. Not sure what to look for?
Here’s an indepth guide of what to look for when buying a portable filtration system for camping, home use or the RV.
Keep an emergency radio tuned to local stations throughout the disaster. They may announce disaster relief stations in your area where you can obtain clean water, non-perishable foodstuffs, and other tools necessary to stay alive and, more importantly, healthy during a disaster.
Natural disasters are part of life on this planet. No matter where you live, you’ll experience hurricanes or tornadoes or wildfires or earthquakes or floods or landslides or tsunamis or any combination of these events. Having enough clean water to see you through doesn’t take much effort on your part, and could mean the difference between life and death in a survival situation. Even if you’re not in a hurricane-prone state or living in tornado alley, it’s not a bad idea to have a few days worth of survival supplies stored away — just in case.