WQP Associate Editor Lauren Estes asked the CEO of WaterStep about the organization's response to Hurricane Florence
This year’s Atlantic and Pacific hurricane season was the most active ever recorded, shattering the previous record set in 1992. Hurricane Florence, which made landfall Sept. 14, 2018 in North Carolina, led to power outages and significant infrastructure damage. When storms like Florence strike, Louisville, Ky.-based nonprofit WaterStep works to address drinking water needs by providing tools and equipment that produce safe, disinfected water. WQP Associate Editor Lauren Estes asked Mark Hogg, founder and CEO of WaterStep, about the organization’s response to Hurricane Florence.
Lauren Estes: How can extreme weather events impact drinking water?
Mark Hogg: Surface water becomes polluted when water rises, resulting in flooding. When water flows across farmland, fecal matter can be picked up, [as well as] pesticides, dead animals, etc. Polluted water on the surface can end up in aquifers and wells, affecting drinking water. In an urban setting there’s a tremendous amount of contamination from many different sources. The increase of contamination results in more energy and work for local water treatment plants. Bacteria can quickly spread and even cause death from waterborne illness. It is important water be disinfected as a priority in these situations.
Estes: What kind of equipment has WaterStep provided for Hurricane Florence survivors?
Hogg: The WaterStep team took 15 disaster relief kits. Each contains disaster-tested equipment that can provide thousands of gallons of safe drinking water each day. The kits include a hard case box and bag; a portable Bleach Maker (a device that produces medical-strength disinfectant used to sanitize clinics, kitchens, shelters); a solar panel (also serves as a cell phone charging station); an M-100 chlorine generator (a device that produces safe drinking water for thousands of people a day and is small enough to fit in a backpack); a 500-gal bladder tank for fast initial storage; a generator power adapter in case electric is [not] available; a manifold to push water in to tank storage; a two-stage filter pack for particulates; a guzzler pump to pump water into storage tanks; and salt, used in conjunction with a car battery to power the tools.
Estes: In what year was WaterStep founded?
Hogg: WaterStep was founded in 1995 and emerged from a passionate group of people who believe anyone can make a difference and help solve the greatest problem in the world: access to safe water. In college in 1983, the founder had an opportunity to build a dam in west Africa. Each day he saw people gather water in a filthy water hole to drink, bathe in and water livestock, which was an awakening experience. People were sick and some died as a result. The experience left him with an angst to seek a way the people in that community could be empowered to take care of their own water, sanitation and health needs. WaterStep empowers people with the tools and training to be self-reliant in this most basic of needs.
Estes: Has WaterStep responded to other natural disasters?
Hogg: Yes, WaterStep has responded to 11 different natural disasters since 2009, including the earthquake in Costa Rica in 2009, the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, the flooding in Pakistan in 2010 and 2011, the typhoon in the Philippines in 2013, the typhoon in India in 2013, the earthquake in Nepal in 2015, the earthquake in Ecuador in 2016, the landslide in Colombia in 2017, the hurricane in Puerto Rico in 2017 and the volcano in Guatemala in 2018.
The standard procedures surrounding domestic disasters is to deliver large amounts of bottled water and to quickly get water treatment back online. The water plant, especially in rural areas, may be damaged to the degree it may take a long time to repair. Bottled water is difficult to distribute and not sustainable. People need large amounts of water for bathing and cleaning. There are other options like WaterStep’s tools to add to a disaster worker’s arsenal to provide safe water and disinfectant.