Thanks to WHO for all information.
On 26 December one decade ago, an earthquake off the Indonesian island of Sumatra measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale triggered a number of massive tsunamis. The leading wave raced through the deep water at a speed of more than 800 km per hour. As it neared land, its enormous energy unleashed at least three waves of up to 25 m, killing and devastating coastal regions of eleven countries around the Indian Ocean.
It was one of the most devastating natural disasters since records began. At least five million people were affected in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, Malaysia, the Maldives, the Seychelles, Myanmar and Somalia. The death toll exceeded 280,000 people, and more than one million persons were displaced as a result of the destruction.
Inevitably, one of the major issues as a result of the tsunami was getting drinking water to those affected. Waterborne diseases were also an urgent threat: cholera, diarrhoea, hepatitis and typhoid. A WHO report released two days after the disaster warned: “Poor quality and quantity of water and insufficient sanitation, overcrowding and poor hygiene in temporary camps will bring forward the risk for outbreaks of different diarrhoeal diseases. Thorough and sustained water purification is an absolute priority.”
UN agencies, charities and NGOs received unprecedented donations. Following the first 48 hours, when survivors relied mainly on unaffected sources and some bottled water, responders began to reach areas in which the affected populations were assembling. They distributed large tanks and mobilized tanker trucks to fill them. As emergency efforts turned to stabilization and resettlement, responders used mobile treatment plants and emergency storage and distribution systems to increase the quantity of water supplied.
The tsunami affected existing water supplies in at least five ways.
- In those areas hit hardest by the impact of breaking waves, many of the supply and distribution systems, regardless of their type, were completely destroyed or otherwise rendered inoperable.
- In other areas, where the impact was less forceful, rising waters inundated surface sources and unprotected wells with seawater, sand, debris and, in many cases, faecal matter from coastal areas where open defecation was common and sanitation facilities were largely unimproved.
- Even protected sources such as shallow wells, many of which had high levels of salinity before the tsunami, underwent subsurface saline water intrusion, raising the saline level to a point that rendered them unfit for human consumption.
- Wells and other sources of supply that did survive the tsunami itself were often used at rates beyond safe recharge. In some cases, excess use may have increased saline water intrusion, resulting in water that was no longer potable.
- In some regions, there were dramatic shifts in the coast line, thus completely eliminating former home sites and complete communities.
As a result of all of these factors, many sources of drinking water in the affected areas were unavailable or unusable following the tsunami.
Though the area has never experienced a disaster on the scale of the 26 December 2004 tsunami, the countries involved are regularly affected by heavy monsoons and flooding, perhaps explaining why governmental bodies were quick to mobilize. UN agencies and NGOs, some of which already worked in the region with populations affected by conflict, 10 provided invaluable experience and expertise, and were able to assume complete responsibility for specific areas.
The evidence to date from those countries from which information is available suggests that the drinking water response to the tsunami disaster was timely, effective and comprehensive.
Main image: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade at Flickr Creative Commons