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How could I build the resilience of communities facing natural disasters in terms of access to drinking water?

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After Irma and María hurricanes, some islands of the Caribbean experienced blackout and water-supply cut-off for several weeks or months. In Puerto Rico for instance, severely hit by hurricane María, there was no mechanism of disaster preparedness or mitigation. The piped water system was the exclusive source of drinking water and people have been (and some are still) exposed to cut-off. Then, the alternative sources of water may be bottled water – which is not environmentally and economically sustainable – or any others water resources available such as springs, wells, surface water (i.e. creeks, rivers and ponds) or rain water; inhabitants are then exposed to risk of water and hygiene related infections and diseases.

Emergency response

In Puerto Rico, the emergency responses for water were:

  • Massive distribution of bottled water, brought from the USA. Problem of solid wastes management with all these plastic bottles, where there’s no recycling practices or plants on the island. And when all the bottles are empty, where the people will get their water from?

  • Distribution of household water filter, brought from the USA.

  • Water trucking (of piped water), but even the national authorities recommended the people to treat this water before drinking it (filtration, boiling or disinfection).

  • Alternative water sources: many rely on unprotected water sources; the natural disaster generated landslides and floods (and flooded sceptic tanks and sewage systems) contaminating springs, wells and surface waters. However, these solutions are temporary and in case of new natural disaster, the inhabitants would end up in the same situation, without access to good quality water.

Water and Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR)

A longer-term solution could be the design of durable and ambitious community led programs, aiming at building the disaster resilience and preparedness of communities. Under the umbrella of DRR (and Climate Change Adaptation), you could develop some of the following activities:

 Water safety plan: in order to select the water resources with the best quality and to protect these water resources from contamination:

o Water quality analysis and monitoring (of the existing water resources such as piped water system, spring, river, well and rain)

o Protection of the water resources from the source to the use/consumption until the management of waste waters (such as environmental management, protection of the watershed, organic and disaster-resistant agriculture, reutilization of grey water, composting toilets).

 Promotion and training on decentralized and disaster-resistant water supply system, at community and/or individual levels:

o Repair/rehabilitation/improvement of existing community decentralized water supply systems;

o And/or rain water harvesting community and/or individual systems with filtration units.

 Campaigns of environmental health education, hygiene promotion, DRR and CCA, in order to promote the use of decentralized water supply system and the protection of water resources.

 DRR trainings and mitigation measures (i.e. alerts, communication, disaster-resistant house, food stock, water supply, energy, etc.).

 Support for the most vulnerable (criteria to be defined, such as elders, disabled, single headed families, etc.) through:

o Grants;

o And/or manpower;

o And/or familial and adapted ... (plus)

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