Strategy for Disaster Reduction
Latin America and the Caribbean
Newsletter ISDR Inform - Latin America and the Caribbean
lack of fresh water:
A number of countries and cooperating bodies, citing the above essential uses of water, have for decades been working on related issues in order to secure the provision of drinking water in sufficient quantities for the world population at large. This procurement is a decisive element for people to be able to achieve their full development.
Taking into consideration that water production for human consumption is based on the availability of fresh water in the environment, efforts have been devoted to work on the protection of basins and natural water sources from degradation and pollution. The increase in desertification processes in some regions of theplanet makes evident that there is still much more to do in this field, particularly because this phenomenon is not only about the lack of water, but also about the total destruction of the environment and its ecosystems.
Having enough fresh water during normal times is very important for the
lives, health and de velopment of peoples. One cannot stress enough how
essential fresh water can be during extreme events such as social conflicts
and disaster situations.
Although the impact of water-related threats such as floods, hurricanes and droughts must be recognized as the main cause of disaster situations, particularly over the last few years – due to ongoing environmental degradation and the lack of inclusion of these phenomena in planning and decision-making processes related to land planning and human settlements- it is also necessary to highlight throughout this year (2003), designated as the “International Year of Freshwater”, that securing water provision for human consumption during disaster situations represents a critical issue when addressing emergencies and guaranteeing that affected communities will return to normal as soon as possible.
The availability of water in adequate quantities and quality after the occurrence of a disaster is then an essential issue, especially after addressing the needs of search and rescue missions. The availability of water, for example, contributes to a number of critical tasks, including rescue work and extinguishing fires after an earthquake. In a similar manner, fresh water helps guarantee that adequate health care will be provided. Having fresh water also protects the health of the population at large, and contributes to the reactivation of different productive and commercial activities.
Despite its importance, water infrastructure frequently shows the same weaknesses faced by the rest of the infrastructure. As a result, water infrastructure is also exposed to the occurrence of disasters such as floods, hurricanes, earthquakes or volcanic eruptions, among others.
After the occurrence of a disaster, damage to the physical infrastructure of water provision systems has posed a recurring risk which occasionally has led to a lack of water provision for weeks and even months. For example, during the crisis caused by Hurricane Mitch, 75% of the population of Honduras (some 4,5 million people) was either deprived of water or, at the very least, had difficulties accessing water and sanitary services. It has been also noted that that, as a consequence of this damage, the water sector there declined to a level achieved three decades before, in terms of the work done and progress made to achieve universal coverage of such services. Three decades of efforts were lost in one week, and it will take years to reach the levels achieved before Hurricane Mitch.
Though some have proposed that it may be possible to plan and improvise
water distribution among the population for an extended period of time
during disaster situations (e.g. using tankers), this represents a logistical
challenge and the utilization of resources that our countries would hardly
be able to allocate. In general, it has been clear that not even large
cities have the logistical resources needed for water distribution during
an emergency (tankers, reservoirs, etc.), while water systems directly
affected by a disaster are restored.
The paradigm of too much water, too little water…main cause of disasters may be reformulated when referring to the availability of water during a disaster. This, if because the lack of fresh water may also pose a threat to the population who has not been directly affected by a disaster. If they lack this basic service, they will become victims as well.
The most economic and feasible way of securing water provision during disaster situations is to locate, design and build infrastructure, taking into consideration the presence of natural threats as conditional factors and assessing the potential impact of these hazards. In a similar manner, infrastructure related to water provision must also incorporate mitigation measures for guaranteeing that these systems will work in said conditions while allowing institutions to address emergencies with all the available resources.
One critical situation
that must be taken into consideration is the fact that both technicians
and decision makers in charge of infrastructure
planning will not always be able to locate this infrastructure outside
of disaster prone areas. This may happen because populations receiving
these services are sometimes settled in areas of risk themselves, which
represents the “original sin” of any attempt to reduce vulnerability.
In fact, on occasion, local authorities “legalize” human
settlements located in risk zones by delivering basic services to these