In September 2017, Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico. During the storm, the island’s entire power grid was knocked out, and flooding was widespread, resulting in a lack of potable water. Water With Blessings (WWB), an organization that provides training and water purification products to people in need of potable water, has established a program to help bring safe drinking water back to the people of Puerto Rico. WQP Associate Editor Michael Meyer asked WWB Co-founder Arnold Lemay about the organization.
MICHAEL MEYER: Please tell me about WWB.
ARNOLD LEMAY: WWB is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization located in Middletown, Ky. It began in response to a need recognized in medical mission activities in Honduras, where there was persistent, recurring waterborne disease caused by bacteria and parasites. Waterborne disease is endemic in areas with poor infrastructure, and water in a pipe is not necessarily safe to drink in developing areas.
WWB uses a complete program of sustainability that consists of technology and, more importantly, training mothers in the proper long-term use of the technology. The technology used by WWB is the Sawyer Products PointOne filter. ... WWB partners with others already working in [more than] 40 countries around the world.
We have thus far equipped, empowered and trained [more than] 54,000 “water women” worldwide, each one of whom commits to filtering water for her own family and pays it forward by sharing clean water with at least three other families in the community. The funds for the filters and training [are] provided by many donors, large and small, and our many volunteers. It costs $60 to bring clean water to four families for life.
Meyer: How does WWB approach disaster relief?
Lemay: WWB prefers to work with partners already in and familiar with the disaster impact areas. There have been times, like in Puerto Rico, when responders familiar with the WWB program travel to the impact areas to teach and equip the people in need. In-community coordinators already know the people, culture, resources and urgent needs of the people we are trying to help. In- community coordinators identified during disaster response normally become advocates and partner with WWB following recovery.
Natural disasters are crisis events that tend to impact infrastructure. Damage or contamination is almost certain. In areas with chronic infrastructure weakness as a result of economic decline, deferred maintenance or capacity challenges, there is increased likelihood of greater damage and a more difficult and lengthy recovery. ... Our crisis response is similar to our chronic needs response, with the difference being a disaster relief protocol [that] emphasizes use and cleaning of the systems and sharing clean water with more people.
MEYER: What water quality challenges did you experience in Puerto Rico?
LEMAY: The water distribution and sanitation systems in Puerto Rico were physically damaged by the hurricane, as was the electrical grid needed to power these conventional systems. Bottled water and other supplies are shipped in, but sufficiently rapid distribution on such a large scale is difficult and complicated again by infrastructure limitations. In addition to responders traveling via commercial air travel, WWB partnered with Angel Flights in southeast Florida to fly in filtration kits to numerous affected areas.
The filtration system used by WWB is compact and lightweight, so we are able to fit 60 kits, plus training materials and water storage pouches, in a duffle bag to travel as checked luggage or via the Angel Flights aircraft. ... Clean water is a primary and urgent need following such an event, so rapid deployment is essential to prevent waterborne illness. To date, WWB has shipped 3,000 water filter kits to Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria.
MEYER: What are the next steps in Puerto Rico?
LEMAY: WWB will continue crisis intervention work with people in need in Puerto Rico until the commercial water supply is restored and certified as safe. Estimates are that this may take a long while to complete, so the long service life and reliability of the system is important. ... The filtration systems have a long useful life and can be cleaned and stored for use following the next disaster, whether a hurricane or a more normal water outage.