Preventing Water Crisis following Natural Disaster – Everyone’s responsibility

By Dr. Binod Kumar Patro

Large scale natural disasters are bound to affect the basic human needs such as Food, Clothing and Shelter (Roti, Kapada and Makaan). Among the basic human needs Food is the most important as placed first in the sequence. One of the most important components of food is water which is essential for survival. Two important parameters of water is quantity and quality. Quantity and quality of water both affect human health in different ways. World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a minimum of 7.5 litres per capita per day will meet the requirements of most people under most conditions. This water needs to be of a quality that represents a tolerable level of risk. However, in an emergency situation, a minimum of 15 litres is required. A higher quantity of about 20 litres per capita per day should be assured to take care of basic hygiene needs and basic food hygiene. While many civic bodies are struggling to provide the recommended supplies during routine time, the recommendations are difficult to match during emergency situations. The recommendation during emergency situations are as follows

Hierarchy of Water Requirement during emergency situation.

The classical David Bradley’s classification of water related diseases is can be quick reminder the pathways and group of diseases in each category. The first two categories are important during an emergency situation. The waterborne diseases can be addressed by adequate water treatment, while the water-washed diseases can be tackled by adequate quantity of water for sanitation.

Bradleys classification of water related diseases

Category Description Diseases
Waterborne diseases The pathogen is in water when it is ingested (Feco-oral transmission) Typhoid, Waterborne Hepatitis
Water-washed diseases Person to person transmission because lack of water for hygiene  (Water scarce diseases) Skin Infections, Scabies, Eye infections, Trachoma
Water-based diseases Transmission by water based intermediate host Guinea Worm Diseases, Schistosomiasis
Water Related insect Vector Transmission by insects that breed in water or bite near water Dengue, Onchocerciasis, Sleeping Sickness


The present cyclone “Fani” has affected the water supply and distribution in the affected areas of Odisha. The municipal water supply to the cities of Puri, Bhubaneswar and Cuttack shall take time to get back to normalcy. The water supply system might have been affected both structurally and functionally. The concerned agencies shall first check with the structural distribution chain followed by quality of water. Usually superchlorination is done in emergency situation to handle Waterborne diseases.

The following are some of tips for water management at individual and households which shall help everyone to tide over the crisis situation.

  1. Store water for consumption before the predicted natural disaster for a minimum of three to five days requirement.
  2. Treat the water before use. One can use boiling and chlorine tablets for water treatment at household levels. One chlorine tablet (5gm) can be sufficient for 20 liters of water, water should be used after 30 minutes of addition of chorine tablet. For boiling the water has to be boiled to rolling boil and allowed to cool normally. Domestic gravity filters (Ceramic filters) can be used in place of boiling or chlorination also.
  3. Secure a water source after a disaster – locate the nearest functional hand pump for water requirement.
  4. Reduce the use of water – minimize the water use at household levels. If water is not sufficient go for cold sponging twice a day instead of bathing once a day. Do not use use bucket and mug for bathing. Cloth washing can wait for some time. Use Indian toilets instead of western toilets.
  5. Reuse water if possible – the left over water from washing clothes can be used for flushing the toilets.
  6. Food preparation and water consumption – Shift to the type of food which requires less of water. For example go for Roti and Sabji from grains with high proteins such as Rajma, Chole and Lobiya etc. If you are a rice eater prepare rice in pressure cooker. Take lot of salads and water rich fruits and vegetables such as water melons, oranges, cucumbers, tomatoes etc. Avoid non- vegetarian food and spicy food during and following disaster as they require lot of water during preparation and there is increased thirst after these type of food.
  7. Do not take food from out side.
  8. Once the water supply restores – the first water which comes don’t consume. Use the first water after restoration for washing utensils, clothes and bathing. Use the water for consumption after two to three hours of run time.
  9. Reduce- Recycle-Reuse (3 R’s of waste management ) to be used to the extent possible.

Views expressed are completely personal


Dr. Binod Kumar Patro

Email – [email protected]

Faculty of Dept. of Community and Family Medicine of AIIMS, Bhubaneswar