More than 840,000 people die each year from water, sanitation, and hygiene-related causes. On top of this, they have many waterborne disease problems. In 2011 alone, 6,000 people died in Haiti due to waterborne diseases.
One-tenth of the disease in the world could be prevented by improving the hygiene, sanitation, and management of water. One of the biggest problems is that children don’t properly wash their hands or don’t wash them at all. Many children also don’t know what water is safe to drink in Haiti and what water isn’t. Because of this, of the 3.5 million deaths worldwide that occur each year from waterborne diseases, like Cholera, 80% are children. Five thousand of the six thousand people who died of waterborne diseases in Haiti in 2011 was from an outbreak of the infectious disease Cholera.
How does water get contaminated?
Water can be contaminated in many ways. Water that contains microbes and other pollutants is contaminated. Human and animal feces are the main source of water contamination. Water is contaminated when people and animals defecate in an open field or near a water source and when latrines are not properly used and maintained. The feces get into the water and are spread to everyone who uses that water. Contaminated water can come through rivers, streams, and wells and is carried to our homes in pipelines and buckets.
Water can also be contaminated when:
- Containers for storing water are not cleaned properly
- Water storage tanks are not covered to protect against contamination
- The bucket and rope that are used to pull water out of the well were in contact with something dirty (hands, animals, ground)
Water can look dirty when it is contaminated, but even clear water can contain microbes that cause illness. Not all sources of water are good quality water.
Rainwater is pure when falling from the sky, but may become dirty when landing on the roof. Groundwater can be of good quality but may be contaminated with chemicals or latrine waste. Surface water is of poor quality because there are many ways it can become contaminated.
What can we do to help?
Here are some of the ways the FOTCOH clinic works to help keep Haitians healthy and safe from contaminated water through our Education Clinics:
- Water treatment
- Safely storing drinking water
- Improving hygiene practices
– Hand washing
– Food hygiene
– Tooth brushing
Water Treatment Options
Methods of making water safe to drink:
Most germs die quickly at high temperatures. Water that has been boiled for 1 minute is safe to drink after it has cooled. If no other method of water disinfection is available, very hot tap water may be safe to drink if it has been in the tank for a while.
A variety of filters are available from camping stores. Most have filter sizes between 0.1 and 0.4 microns, which will remove bacteria from water but will not remove viruses. New “hollow fiber” technology can remove viruses as well. “Reverse osmosis” filters remove bacteria and viruses and can also remove salt from water, which is important for ocean voyagers.
Tablets or packets of powder can be bought at camping stores to disinfect water. These usually combine chemical disinfectants (such as chlorine or iodine) with a substance that makes the water clear and improves its taste. Follow the instructions on the package closely—you may need to wait several hours until all the germs are killed.
Ultraviolet (UV) Light
Portable units that deliver a measured dose of UV light are an effective way to disinfect small quantities of clear water. However, this technique is less effective in cloudy water since germs may be shielded from the light by small particles.
In an emergency situation, water can be disinfected with sunlight. Water in a clear plastic bottle, preferably lying on a reflective surface (such as aluminum foil), will be safe to drink after a minimum of 6 hours in bright sunlight. This technique does not work on cloudy water.
Safely storing drinking water
Consider the following when storing water:
- The storage container used should not be used for any other liquids or materials.
- The storage container should be clean.
- The storage container should be kept off the ground.
- The storage container should have a sealed lid.
- The storage container should be absent of cracks, leaks, and should not be dirty.
- Feces, garbage, and other wasters should not be around the water storage container.
- Animals should not have access to the clean water container.
- A tap should be used whenever necessary as opposed to a ladle or cup.
- Drinking water should not also be used for hand washing or bathing.
- The stored water should only
- Water can become contaminated while carrying, storing, or serving.
- Always serve water is something clean.
- Familiarize yourself with the local conditions for transporting/carrying, storing, and serving water.
- When gathering water, it should be transported in a container with a lid.
- For storing water, it is best to use a narrow-neck, covered container with a spigot. That way nothing can touch the water (dipper, cup, or hand).
- Store water should be kept chlorinated, boiled, or filter in a container with a lid that seals, preferable with a tap.