Last week, Typhoon Haiyan swept across the Philippines, leaving a path of devastation in its wake. Cities have been flattened and homes destroyed, and the death toll has climbed into the thousands. The countless scores who have been left homeless are in critical need of shelter, medicine, food and clean water.
News outlets are reporting that supplies are beginning to reach the city of Tocloban, one of the hardest-hit areas, but relief workers and local officials are running into obstacles trying to distribute them. Vehicles and infrastructure have been destroyed, and even when transportation is available, refueling has become problematic. Although gas is available, gas station owners are hesitant to reopen due to fears of looting. In short, the situation is becoming desperate.
Food and water supplies are running extremely low. Damage to infrastructure and dead bodies lying amongst the rubble threaten to contaminate any water sources that may be available. (The New York Times  also reported that an attempt to bury some of the dead was halted when trucks carrying the bodies met gunfire along the route.)
The gravity of the need for clean water and sanitation should not be understated, and this need must be managed to avoid a secondary disaster – the rapid spread of disease. Unfortunately, it has already begun: According to the New York Times, “many children have begun showing up at the group’s [Sauveteurs Sans Frontières’] field hospital with fevers and diarrhea as well, probably from drinking contaminated water.”
We need only look back a few short years to the cholera outbreak that followed the Haiti earthquake of 2010 – an outbreak the country is still battling today – to see the havoc that waterborne diseases can wreak in the wake of a disaster.
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