World Water Day a reminder of the importance of safe drinking water

21 March 2014 — The Philippines is no stranger to emergency situations due to natural disasters: for example there is an average of 20 tropical cyclones annually. However, the unprecedented devastation of super typhoon Yolanda in November 2013 had a particularly detrimental impact on the water systems of the central Visayas region of the Philippines.

“During emergency situations water quality is often compromised and this was certainly the case for the Yolanda affected areas,” says Engineer Bonifacio Magtibay, WHO Philippines Technical Officer for Environmental Health.

The World Health Organization together with the Department of Health conducted water quality tests in Leyte and Eastern Samar from November to December 2013. They discovered 30%-40% of water samples tested positive for Escherichia coli (E. coli).

Prior to the typhoon, the region lacked adequate water testing facilities. The typhoon further damaged facilities making water quality testing and the prevention of disease outbreaks even more difficult.

To help address this situation, the World Health Organization, together with the Philippine Department of Health, has developed a water quality monitoring and response project with the aim of strengthening the capacity of affected local government units in monitoring water quality and in providing appropriate control measures for the risks that are identified. A series of trainings were conducted with 140 sanitary inspectors across these regions to equip them with updated knowledge and skills in dealing with water quality issues before, during and after the disasters. Sanitary inspectors are in-charge of identifying the causes of water contamination and for recommending preventive measures to stop water from becoming contaminated.

The training in February and March of 2014 enabled sanitary inspectors to improve their skills in conducting bacteriological and physical analyses of water by utilizing portable test kits that help identify whether the water is safe for drinking. The WHO has also distributed water kits to the typhoon affected communities containing jerry cans for water storage and water purification tablets (or hyposol) to enable immediate water disinfection and treatment.

Dr Julie Hall, WHO Representative in the Philippines says, “World Water Day is a great reminder to us all of the importance of clean water in preventing the spread of disease. WHO is working with the Department of Health and other partners to ensure that there is clean water, adequate sanitary facilities, and improved hygiene practices in the communities affected most by Typhoon Yolanda.”