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Providing Safe Water in a Disaster


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November 9  |  Editorial, Emergency Preparedness, News, safe drinking water  |   Webmaster

by Mark Owen – founder CEO of Puralytics
 
Every year, our planet experiences an average of 500 natural disasters (Gutierrez, 2008). While some have minimal impact, others may disrupt our standard of living for days, weeks, or even months- restricting our access to food, medical care, and potable water sources. In a recent report by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, more than 32.4 million people were displaced worldwide by natural disasters in 2012 (Activity Report 2012, 2013). In an assessment of all global risks, water crises was the 3rdlargest risk, and the one identified as having the largest impact and the most likely to occur (Jennifer Blanke, 2014).
 

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Figure 1: Aid workers in Tacloban City, Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan bring SolarBags for their own use.

Disaster & Water

In a disaster, electricity is lost and water infrastructure is damaged. Fresh water sources might be polluted with all of the chemical toxins in the region as well as sewage and physical debris. First responders refer to the “Rule of Threes” – 3 minutes without air, 3 days without water, and 3 weeks without food/shelter and people will die. In recent disasters, like the Typhoon in the Philippines, the Tsunami in Japan, Hurricane Sandy and Katrina, and the earthquakes in Haiti, for instance, by Day 3 of the crisis, water became extremely valuable – the most expensive water on the planet – flown in by helicopters by emergency medical personnel and first responders, or supplied by desalination systems on battleships in the harbor. In many of these disasters, the water need continued for 3-18 months after the initial disaster had passed, and became the greatest risk of survival.

In the first days of such a crisis, bottled water is often flown in and distributed, both for the protection of the aid workers and emergency responders, and for those immediately displaced by the disaster. Stored or supplied bottled water runs out in a few days. Within the first week or so, it becomes impractical to supply water this way, and aid agencies switch to interim disinfection strategies like boiling water, chlorine or iodine tablets. These are able to partially disinfect the water and filters can remove some particulates, but they are not able to remove the chemical toxins that are also in the available water sources. While is it is widely recognized that water must be both disinfected and detoxified to be a safe water source, disinfection only solutions are acceptable for short periods as outbreaks are the largest short term risk.

These minimalist disinfection-only solutions were satisfactory for short term solutions with clear water sources, but as the disaster expands to weeks and months, the shortcomings of these methods become significant. Chemical toxins left in the water from the disaster, like petrochemicals, pesticides, cleaning supplies, pharmaceuticals, heavy metals, etc. become a significant threat to health that could impact those affected for years to come. Unfortunately, most people who prepare for a disaster, and most government and aid organization that provide support after a disaster do not have equipment to detoxify the water from these chemical toxins. Water quality quickly becomes the biggest risk after the first days of the crisis, and may continue to be for weeks, months, or even years ahead.

The Puralytics SolarBag is unique in an emergency, because it can both disinfect and detoxify the water, providing safe water that meets US EPA and World Health Organization’s “highly protective” safe water guidelines as shown in Figure 2. Sunlight, even on a cloudy day, activates the nanotechnology coated mesh insert, activating 5 photochemical processes that purify water and reduce or destroy contaminants found in virtually all water sources.

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Figure 2: Comparing different water treatment technologies, only one is able to both disinfect and detoxify the water.

The SolarBag can treat up to 9 liters of water per day and can be reused over 500 times.
It can be stored for 7 years or more, and can be used by anyone, even children, to purify virtually any water source to make safe water. It is also very light to transport – while 1 gallon of water weighs about 8 lbs, 1 SolarBag which can make 500 gallons weighs only 4 ounces. Imagine if the aid organizations passed out SolarBags instead of bottled water or chlorine tablets in the early days of a disaster how many more people would be helped in a time of need.

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Figure 3: Planning for an emergency longer than 3 days requires being able to treat water to both disinfect and detoxify the water.

While this patented technology is relatively new and only mentioned in the most recent survival handbooks, it is widely available in stores and online sources. It has also been shipped to over 50 countries, including the recent disaster in the Philippines, being handed out through organizations like Medical Teams International, Relief International, Forward Edge International, and by the Red Cross. Recently Puralytics won the International Water Association’s Global Honour Award for long term use of the SolarBag in rural villages in Africa. For more information on the SolarBag, see the company’s website – www.puralytics.com

 

References

(2013). Activity Report 2012. Geneva: The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre.

Gutierrez, D. (2008). Natural Disasters Up More Than 400 Percent in Two Decades. Natural News.

Jennifer Blanke, e. a. (2014). Global Risk 2014, Ninth Edition. World Economic Forum.

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