Sustainability. What’s Your Policy?

By Cara Goodman and Sara Corben

When it comes to water, what communities really need is a reliable source to provide clean water, and lots of it. All too often, disaster relief provides the easiest solutions; the short-term solutions.  According to the World Factbook, 11% of the world’s population currently lacks an improved source of drinking water (one that is protected from contamination). Water from unimproved sources is often contaminated with human, agricultural, or industrial waste; making it unsafe to drink due to its ability to spread disease or have other negative health effects.

Wells provide an example of a short-term solution to a large-scale problem. Although wells and boreholes provide necessary water resources to suffering communities, too many aid organizations focus on providing a well without ensuring proper design, maintenance and upkeep. Water and sanitation foundation FairWater estimates that there are 50,000 dysfunctional water supply infrastructures in Africa, representing an investment of $215-360 million. In addition, a study done by the International Institute for Environment and Development found that 80 percent of wells in the Menaca region of Mali were dysfunctional, and 58 percent of waterpoints in Ghana were in need of repair. Although wells do provide short-term access to invaluable water supplies, without proper investment into design and maintenance, they fail to provide a long-term solution to the underlying issue of water scarcity.

In disaster-prone areas, it is important to provide immediate relief. However, it is wiser to plan ahead to prevent the

problems exacerbated by disasters. In many cases, the places where disasters occur are already greatly affected by poverty and need long term answers to their development needs. According to a report from the  UN Human Settlements Program, “Piecemeal efforts that are not connected with the long-term development strategy can not only aggravate precarious social conditions creating dependency on aid, but are a critical waste of financial and human resources invested in short-sighted emergency relief plans.”

So what is the solution? We need to work in these places before disasters occur to ensure their infrastructure is sufficient and will be able to survive whatever events occur. James Lewis’ book Development in Disaster-Prone Places notes that our efforts have historically been “an over-emphasis on post-disaster assistance and a lack of attention to vulnerability reduction”. Vulnerability reduction is anything that reduces the risk of potential damage in a situation such as a natural disaster. It can be anything from more wind-resistant buildings to solid water infrastructure that won’t get knocked out of commission during an emergency.

Water is one of the most important resources in an emergency, as a shortage of clean water often becomes the root of many problems in a disaster situation. When water is cut off or contaminated, it leads to decreased hygiene and sanitation, and often outbreaks of communicable disease. To prevent this, we need strong water infrastructure systems that will reliably provide large amounts of fresh water even in disaster situations. One such solution is Wind4Water, a dependable system that removes salt and impurities from ocean water, making it safe to drink. It is designed to be connected to a water supply network that distributes hassle-free piped water directly to homes or communities. This type of water supply helps to prevent contamination or disruption during disasters, and can provide healthy water to communities, especially in the times of greatest need.

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